Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns
A boy wearing a Turkish flag stands next to a Turkish soldier in the town of Tell Abyad, Syria, Oct. 23, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 May 2022

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns
  • Yeni Safak newspaper: ‘Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij’
  • The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to carry out a new military incursion on Turkey’s southern borders has triggered speculation about potential targets, with the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat emerging as a primary goal of any operation.
Two days after Erdogan announced the plan, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said on Wednesday preparations had been made for a new operation to expand “safe zones” already set up in northern Syria, with several goals identified.
“Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij,” the paper said.
Turkish control of the towns, which lie on or close to a central stretch of the 911-km-long border with Syria, could extend and deepen its military presence from near the Mediterranean coast along nearly three-quarters of the frontier.
So far, there have been few signs of military movements that preceded Turkey’s last four incursions into northern Syria. Erdogan has said decisions on military operations would be made at a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. Turkey designates both as terrorist organizations.
The YPG has been the main target of several incursions which Turkey has carried out in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land and pushing some 30 km (20 miles) deep into the country.
YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud told Reuters the group took Erdogan’s threats very seriously: “The international coalition, America, and Russia should commit to the pledges that they made to this region. Their presence in our areas must be meaningful, in the sense that it stops the repeated attacks on our people.”
The Yeni Safak newspaper said the most critical target of the latest operation would be Tal Rifaat, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, which it said Kurdish fighters used as a base from which to launch attacks in the Afrin, Azaz and Jarablus areas controlled by Turkey and Ankara-backed Syrian fighters.
Tal Rifaat is located north of Aleppo city and just south of Azaz. An operation there alone would not represent a widening of Turkey’s “safe zones” along the border, but would push its forces deeper into Syria.
Dareen Khalifa, an analyst on Syria at the International Crisis Group, said it was unclear whether Erdogan was talking about an operation in Tal Rifaat or further east, but she highlighted the role of the town.
“Tal Rifaat, if anything, can get him what he wants and it would avoid triggering a huge headache. I don’t think the Americans care about Tal Rifaat,” she said.
Most US forces in northern Syria are based further east.
She said Russia, which has forces deployed in the region, had not been addressing his concerns on militant attacks on Turkish-controlled areas from Tal Rifaat, and that Erdogan has been saying for years that Tal Rifaat needs to be captured.
The predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani was touted as another potential target. The YPG’s defeat of Daesh militants there in 2015 helped turn the tide against the group.
“Kobani represents the value of a global victory in the war against terrorism,” YPG spokesman Mahmoud said. “There’s no doubt that our forces will do what is needed to defend” the area.
The YPG, or People’s Defense Units, are a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition which the United States largely relied on to fight Islamic State.
However, Khalifa played down the prospects of Turkey targeting Kobani.
“I don’t think there’s any interest in getting stuck in Kobani,” she said, pointing to the major demographic changes and reaction that would ensue if the Kurdish population fled.
She said that while United States forces were not in Manbij physically, it is a US zone of influence, so “I expect it to also trigger a US reaction.”
Any attack on Kobani would also risk triggering a strong reaction from Turkey’s Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the country’s population. The Islamic State attack on Kobani in 2014 led to protests in which dozens died in Turkey.
Mithat Sancar, joint head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned about the consequences of Erdogan’s plans for fresh military operations.
“We must all see that this will lead again to a bloody vortex in this region and country,” he told HDP lawmakers.
Erdogan’s talk of a military operation has also raised the stakes in Turkey’s row with NATO partners over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, with Turkey accusing both of harboring people linked to the PKK.
Analysts said the incursion plans reflected his belief that the West would not oppose such operations when it needs Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ bid to join NATO.
Erdogan’s announcement was also aimed at bolstering nationalist support as he gears up for difficult elections next year, analysts said. Cross-border military operations have boosted his poll ratings in the past.


UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time
Updated 56 min 5 sec ago

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time

UAE’s lunar mission postponed for second time
  • A new launch date will be shared in the coming days

DUBAI: The UAE’s lunar mission has been postponed for the second time on Thursday, SpaceX said.

The Japanese HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander, carrying the UAE’s 10-kilogram Rashid rover aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was due to take off at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US.

“After further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review, we’re standing down from tomorrow’s launch of ispace inc.’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1,” said SpaceX in a statement.

A new launch date will be shared in the coming days, the company added.

 

 

If Rashid rover successfully lands on the moon, it will be the Arab world’s first lunar mission, placing the UAE as the fourth country to reach the moon.

The mission would also see the first spacecraft funded and built by a private Japanese firm to land on the moon.

Rashid rover is the latest of the UAE’s endeavors in space exploration after successfully launching an unmanned probe to Mars in the first Arab mission to the red planet.


Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria
Updated 01 December 2022

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

Pentagon chief warns Turkiye against new military operation in Syria

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his “strong opposition” to a new Turkish military operation in Syria and voiced concern over the escalating situation in the country, the Pentagon said.

Austin, in the call, expressed condolences over a Nov. 13 attack in Istanbul, the Pentagon said.

“He also expressed concern over escalating action in northern Syria and Turkey, including recent airstrikes, some of which directly threatened the safety of US personnel who are working with local partners in Syria to defeat ISIS,” it said in a statement, using an acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

“Secretary Austin called for de-escalation, and shared the Department’s strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria.” 


Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods
Updated 01 December 2022

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods

Houthi landmines kill more Yemenis, destroy livelihoods
  • Yemenis say militias placed mines as retaliation against those who resisted their ambitions

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Two Yemeni children were killed by a landmine laid by the Houthis in the central province of Marib on Tuesday, increasing the total number of civilians killed or injured by Houthi landmines in one week to nine.

The news comes as a government body confirmed the discovery of wide tracts of ground extensively polluted by Houthi landmines in six provinces.

Yemeni Landmine Monitor reported that two brothers, Abbad and Saleh Abdullah Al-Muradi, were killed and their sister Nemah was severely injured in a landmine explosion in the Rahbah district in Marib, bringing the total number of civilians killed in one week to four and the total number of civilians wounded to five.

The Yemeni group said that two additional individuals were killed and two more were injured in a landmine and ordnance explosion in the western province of Hodeidah, in addition to a child who was injured after touching a landmine in the central province of Al-Bayda.

The Iran-backed Houthis have buried thousands of landmines at previous flashpoints around the country over the last eight years to impede the military advances of their opponents.

The landmines have been planted in farms, schools, health institutions and residential areas and hindered individuals from reaching their places of employment or gaining access to food.

The UN-brokered truce that went into effect on April 2 has restored relative calm to certain hot battlefields, like the city of Marib, enabling some displaced individuals to return home.

Despite the cessation of hostilities, the threat of death and danger posed by Houthi landmines has not abated.

Locals have accused the Houthis of placing landmines in Marib and other Yemeni cities as retaliation against anyone who resisted their military ambitions.

“The Houthi battle in a specific territory does not stop with their loss. Instead, they plant landmines …to make the inhabitants of this area pay dearly for their persistent opposition,” Dhayfullah Al-Dahmashi, a Marib resident, said on Facebook.

Karama Naji, a 7-year-old from the Al-Juthan’an area of Marib, said that while playing outside her home, she tampered with a piece of metal she discovered. The metal was an explosive device left by the Houthis in her village, which detonated, injuring and paralyzing the child’s legs.

“I hope to be able to walk, receive treatment, and find a ride to my distant school,” the child said, according to the Saudi-funded demining program Masam in Yemen.

Yemeni government officials said that this year they uncovered landmine fields planted by the Houthis in the provinces of Abyan, Lahj, Aden, Taiz, Hodeidah and Dhale.

Ameen Saleh Al-Aqeli, director of the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center, praised the efforts of Saudi Arabia to help Yemenis clear Houthi mines.

During his speech on Saturday at the 20th meeting of signatory countries to the Ottawa Treaty, which aims to eliminate landmines around the world, he said the Saudi demining program, which operates in 29 Yemeni districts, has retrieved and destroyed roughly 70,000 anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicle mines and explosive devices since early this year.

Al-Aqeli said that this year 487 non-technical survey trips by deminers in Yemen’s mine-contaminated regions in six provinces uncovered 68 potentially hazardous locations with a total area of 16,571,000 square meters and 21 verified problematic areas with a total area of 25,917,000 square meters.


UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’
Updated 30 November 2022

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

UN envoy: Military escalation in Syria is ‘dangerous’

NEW YORK: The UN special envoy for Syria warned on Tuesday that the current military escalation in Syria is dangerous for civilians and regional stability, and he urged Turkiye and Kurdish-led forces in the north to de-escalate immediately and restore the relative calm that has prevailed for the last three years.

Geir Pedersen told the Security Council that the UN’s call for maximum restraint and de-escalation also applies to other areas in Syria. He pointed to the upsurge in truce violations in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Idlib, airstrikes attributed to Israel in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Latakia, as well as reported airstrikes on the Syria-Iraq border and security incidents and fresh military clashes in the south.

In northwest Idlib, he said, government airstrikes have killed and injured civilians who fled fighting during the nearly 12-year war and now live in camps. 

He said the attacks destroyed their tents and displaced hundreds of families.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham group, the most powerful militant group in Idlib, reportedly attacked government forces and government-controlled areas with civilian casualties, he added.

But Pedersen said his major concern now is the slow increase in mutual strikes between the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main US-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria, and Turkiye and armed opposition groups across northern Syria, with violence spilling into Turkish territory.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to order a land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups following a Nov. 3, explosion in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded dozens, and the government has launched a barrage of airstrikes on suspected militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq in retaliation.

The Kurdish groups have denied involvement in the bombing and say Turkish strikes have killed civilians and threatened the fight against the Daesh group. But Pedersen cited reports of Syrian Democratic Forces attacks on Turkish forces including inside Turkish territory.

The UN envoy said he came to New York to warn the Security Council of “the dangers of military escalation” taking place and of his fear of what a major military operation would mean for Syrian civilian and for wider regional security.

“And I equally fear a scenario where the situation escalates in part because there is today no serious effort to resolve the conflict politically,” Pedersen said.

He expressed concern that the committee comprising government, opposition and civil society representatives that is supposed to revise Syria’s constitution has not met for six months and reiterated his call for a meeting in Geneva in January.

Russia had raised issues over Geneva as the venue, which Pedersen said were “comprehensively addressed” by Swiss authorities, but Moscow has now raised another issue — which he refused to disclose.

“It is now the question of political will from Russia to move on or not to move on,” the UN envoy said. “And as I said to the council, the longer it takes before we meet again, the more problematic it will be. So, I really hope I will get some positive news on this.”

Pedersen said there is a way forward in the weeks ahead — stop the military escalation, renew cross-border aid deliveries to northwest Idlib which expire in January, resume constitutional committee meetings, prioritize work on Syrians detained and missing, and identify and implement step-for-step confidence-building measures.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia hinted at Moscow’s concerns, saying decisions on further inter-Syrian dialogue in the constitutional committee “should be made by the Syrians themselves without external interference.”

To that end, he said, Russia welcomes Pedersen’s contacts with Damascus and the opposition, but not his “step-by-step initiative,” saying this is not part of the special envoy’s mandate.

Nebenzia called the overall situation in Syria tense, with terrorist threats persisting, and the north, northeast and south “exposed to illegal foreign military presence while the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation keeps deteriorating.” He blamed US and European sanctions for making the situation worse.


Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’

Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’
Updated 30 November 2022

Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’

Hady Amr describes appointment as US envoy to Palestine as ‘unprecedented step’
  • He said it will enhance US-Palestinian relations and he will work to ensure the freedom, security, prosperity, justice and dignity of Palestinians
  • Reiterated that President Joe Biden remains ‘committed’ to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was closed by former President Donald Trump

CHICAGO: Hady Amr, the new US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs, described his appointment as an “unprecedented” move that will “elevate” the American relationship with the Palestinian people.

It will also help to coordinate engagement with the US Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem, which was established in June, he added.

Amr was appointed to his new post Nov. 22. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs within the US Department of State.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Amr said he has two main objectives: “To advance and work toward equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity and justice and dignity for the Palestinian people; and to take steps to try to try to preserve and advance the two-state solution along the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed (land) swaps.”

He also stressed that President Joe Biden remains “committed” to reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was shut down in 2018 by the former Trump administration.

He also acknowledged that his appointment comes at a crucial time, as tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated in the past year.

“It is very clear that 2022 has been an extremely painful year on the ground over there,” said Amr.

“In fact, for West Bank Palestinians it has been the deadliest year since 2004, with about 150 West Bank Palestinians killed out of about 200 overall, alongside 31 Israeli deaths, and also over 9,000 Palestinian injuries and over 150 Israeli injuries. So we are aware the situation on the ground is very difficult.

“I’ll be engaging with the Palestinian people and leadership to better understand the challenges we face, and to better align our policy to address those challenges. And I’ll also be engaging with the Israeli government and other governments in the region to try to advance our policy objectives.”

Amr said his appointment reflects Biden’s commitment to pursuing efforts that can ensure Israelis and Palestinians are able to “live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, dignity and justice,” and to supporting a two-state solution to a conflict that has persisted for more than 70 years.

“The creation of this position is a step forward for the US-Palestinian relationship,” said Amr. “It is also an unprecedented step, elevating the attention that will be paid to issues of concern to Palestinians in Washington.

“And so our goal, week-on-week, month-on-month, is to seek ways to make the world a better place … that is our objective and that is how we plan to move forward.

“I think the administration and the secretary of state felt it was important for the administration to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the Palestinian people. And so, they sought to create this position, for the first time ever to have a Washington-based special representative for Palestinian affairs engaging with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership. In my new role, my primary responsibilities will be to do just that.”

Although he declined to go into detail about what actions he has taken since his appointment a little over a week ago, Amr said the Biden administration has already done a lot to improve the lives of Palestinians.

“I don’t want to speak about any steps in the last week but what I do want to point to is the commitment of the United States to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“We are now the world’s largest donor to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East); we have given more than $680 million in the past 18 months. We’ve restarted our assistance, through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), to the Palestinian people and we are tripling that assistance, nearly tripling it this year from $75 million last year to $219 million in the year ahead. And we are continuing to provide a full range of assistance.

“In my new role, essentially, I am going to be focusing in a little bit more on this assistance and making sure it aligns with our foreign policy objectives as the United States.”

Amr also highlighted a key issue that needs to be addressed by all sides as he pursues his goals in his new position.

“The key thing, as we have said for some time, is we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence and to contain the armed conflict,” he said.

“The US and international partners stand ready to help but we can’t substitute for vital actions by the parties themselves. So when it comes to whatever those actions are — whether it is Palestinian violence against Israelis, Israeli violence against Palestinians, home demolitions, settlement expansion — these are all areas where the United States cares deeply and where we will continue to address those issues with the parties.

“But we call on the parties themselves to do their utmost to contain violence and armed conflict.”

Amr said that in his new role he expects to travel to the Middle East more often than he has in the past.

“I will be able to focus the main portion of my time on engagement with the Palestinian people and leadership and on Palestinian-related issues with other governments in the region, including, Israel, Jordan, Egypt and other governments, as well as with European governments,” he said.

In addition to his exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Amr also held a press briefing on Wednesday during which he reiterated Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution, and to the fundamental principle that both Israelis and Palestinians have an equal right to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and dignity.

“We remain committed to reopening a consulate in Jerusalem,” he said at the briefing. “We continue to believe it is an important way to engage with the Palestinian people … and we will continue to discuss the timeline.”

Amr also reiterated that he will work to strengthen the US relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, and “engage on important reforms we believe are important to make Palestinian society more vibrant and more free.”

On the issue of Palestinian elections, he said: “Elections are a decision for the Palestinian people.”