Turkey undeterred on new offensive against Kurds in Syria, says it does not need anyone’s permission

Special Turkey undeterred on new offensive against Kurds in Syria, says it does not need anyone’s permission
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Turkish troops in armored personnel carriers arrive in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Syria's rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on July 22, 2021. (AFP)
Special Turkey undeterred on new offensive against Kurds in Syria, says it does not need anyone’s permission
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The offensive would be the fifth since 2016. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 July 2022

Turkey undeterred on new offensive against Kurds in Syria, says it does not need anyone’s permission

Turkey undeterred on new offensive against Kurds in Syria, says it does not need anyone’s permission
  • Turkish FM Cavusoglu made the statement despite reservations by its allies and partners
  • Following Tehran summit, Ankara might have to revise its strategy for a while, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA:  Following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent comments that Syria’s Tel Rifaat and Manbij have become hotbeds of terror, eyes are on Turkey’s long-speculated cross-border military operation into these areas against Kurdish fighters.

Although experts say Turkey does not seem to have received a green light for a specific military operation from Russia and Iran following the trilateral summit in Tehran on Tuesday, Ankara warned that it did not need permission to launch an offensive in Syria.

“We exchanged ideas, but we never asked and we never seek consent for our military operations,” Cavusoglu said in a televised interview on Thursday.

Ankara has long hinted at a possible offensive in northeast Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. It sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

“The time has come to clear these ports where the terrorist organization took refuge,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.

For the last five years, Turkey, Iran and Russia have been searching for a political solution to the Syrian conflict through trilateral talks. Before the end of the year, they are also expected to meet in Russia.

Both Russia and Iran have explicitly opposed Ankara’s plans for a fresh military operation against Kurdish-held areas, and have urged a diplomatic solution.

Iran recently deployed military reinforcements to the two Shiite settlements northwest of Aleppo, while Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei told Erdogan during the meeting in Tehran that any military action would be “to the detriment of Syria, Turkey and the region” and could fuel terrorism.

Moscow is also the major ally of Syria’s president, Bashar Assad. Syrian Kurds recently called on Russia and Iran to prevent any Turkish military operation.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Putin said “the area to the east of the Euphrates should return under the control of the legitimate government of Syria.”

Erdogan spoke to reporters on his return flight from Tehran on Tuesday, and said that the three countries, despite having divergent views on Syria, were united in counterterrorism efforts.

They “expressed their determination to continue working together to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations,” according to a joint statement.

Hamidreza Azizi, CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, does not see Erdogan’s statement necessarily as an of indicator of an accord over an eventual operation.

“It seems that despite all efforts, Iran and Russia on the one hand and Turkey on the other hand are still far from an actual agreement about how to deal with the immediate issues in northern Syria,” he told Arab News.

“The Iranian side is overemphasizing on the eastern Euphrates, while Turkish side is still raising this idea of including Tal Rifat and Manbij in the new operation,” said Azizi.

“There is a kind of disagreement about the actual geography of the potential Turkish operation.”

There are currently two scenarios, Azizi believes.

“In one scenario, the sides cannot initiate a compromise between the Syrian regime and Turkey.

“In this case, Turkey can prepare for such an operation regardless of the Russian or Iranian positions. Or Turkey can raise the cost in terms of a potential compromise to somehow not show softness on its position in order to push (the) Syrian regime and its allies to take into account Turkish concerns.

“In that scenario, a new Turkish operation to those areas in the west (of the) Euphrates can be avoided in exchange of actual restrictions on the activities of Kurdish militia,” he said.

Erdogan also told reporters on the plane back to Ankara that “America has to leave (the) east of the Euphrates now. This is an outcome that came out of the Astana process.”

But Washington, although recognizing Turkey’s security concerns along its border, believes that any weakening of the Kurdish-led SDF forces might help Daesh to expand its presence.

Turkey has launched three invasions into Syria since 2016 in order to establish a 30 kilometer security zone free of Kurdish fighters.

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, said the recent talks in Tehran decreased the possibility of a Turkish operation.

“In contrary with the previous bilateral talks between Turkey and Russia to coordinate their moves in Syria, this time Russia also involved Iran into the game in order to balance regional interests and block Turkish moves,” he told Arab News.

Following the summit in Tehran, Orhan noted that Turkey might have to revise its plans in Syria for a while without completely dismissing them.

“In 2020, Turkey used drone strikes in Idlib where Russia has aerial superiority. Therefore, it can also enjoy its drone capacity under conditions where Russia doesn’t allow to fly Turkish jets. But it is a long process where tensions might escalate in the near future to prepare the ground,” he said.

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, thinks that Iran has positioned itself as a forum for de-escalation by hosting talks in Tehran between Russia and Turkey, and Russia has reportedly used backchannel diplomacy with Ankara to deter a military campaign.

“A Turkish offensive in northern Syria is not an unambiguous setback for Russian and Iranian interests, as it would strengthen the informal alignment that is developing between the Kurdish YPG, Syrian army and even some Iranian-aligned militias. This would help Assad consolidate his long-term grip on power,” he told Arab News.

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
Updated 07 June 2023

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
  • Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen: Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking

WASHINGTON: US vice president Kamala Harris said on Tuesday that Israel’s democracy requires “an independent judiciary,” wading into the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that has drawn mass protests in Israel.
“America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the (Israeli) ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and I’ll add: an independent judiciary,” Harris said.
The vice president spoke at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding hosted by the country’s embassy in Washington. Her remarks on the judiciary drew applause.
Harris also reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking, which were intended, he said, to ensure a strong and independent judiciary which was more balanced.
“If you ask her what troubles her about the reform, she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her,” Cohen told Israel’s public broadcaster Kansas “I don’t know whether she read the bill, my estimation is that she has not.”
Weeks of unprecedented street demonstrations followed Netanyahu’s proposed package of reforms of the Supreme Court, which members of his religious-nationalist coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Under pressure at home and abroad, including from US President Joe Biden’s administration, Netanyahu has suspended the overhaul to try to negotiate a consensus with the political opposition.
Critics see a threat to independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies.
Top economists and national security veterans have warned of fallout, saying an independent court system is crucial to Israel’s democratic norms and economic strength.
Before Harris spoke, Israeli president Isaac Herzog said in a video address to the crowd that he planned to visit the White House and address a joint session of the US Congress “in the near future.” The trip is expected in July.
Biden has yet to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, despite Israel’s status as a key Middle East ally.
The two leaders have had chilly relations since Biden took office. Biden had pressed Netanyahu in recent months to drop the judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu, who was prime minister for three years in the 1990s and then from 2009 to 2021, took office again in December to start his sixth term.

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
Updated 07 June 2023

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
  • He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities on Tuesday seized and jailed a 16-year-old youth for drawing a moustache on an election campaign poster showing re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, media reports said.
Several media close to the opposition, including daily newspapers BirGun, Cumhuriyet and private TV station Halk TV, said the youth from the southeastern town of Mersin was accused of defacing the poster near his home with a pen, scribbling “a Hitler moustache and writing insulting comments.”
He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras, media reports said. Authorities interviewed him at his home where he reportedly “admitted drawing the moustache” while denying writing the accompanying comments.
Taken before the public prosecutor he was found to have “insulted the president” and was jailed at a nearby youth facility, according to Halk TV.
Erdogan extended his 20-year rule over Turkiye after winning the May 28 second round of the presidential election to embark on a new five-year term.
According to the justice ministry, “insulting the president” is one of the most common crimes in Turkiye, resulting in 16,753 convictions last year.

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
Updated 06 June 2023

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
  • Two of Gaza’s zoos have closed

GAZA: Large paintings of a bear, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the outer walls of NAMA Zoo in Gaza City, but none of these wild creatures is represented live among those caged inside.

Six years ago, the lone tiger died, and despite visitors’ frequent demands for a replacement, the owners have not been able to afford to buy or feed a new one.

There were once six zoos in Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave which has been closed off behind security walls since 2007.

But with the economy crippled by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, two of the zoos have closed.

“Because of the lack of resources and capabilities and the high prices of animals it is difficult to replace an animal you lose,” said Mahmoud Al-Sultan, the medical supervisor of the NAMA zoo.

The original animals at the zoo were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt over a decade ago. 

As well as four pairs of lions, each of which goes through 60 kg of meat a week, the zoo has crocodiles, hyenas, foxes, deer and monkeys, as well as a lone ibex and a solitary wolf.

At the lions’ cages, children stand to take pictures from a distance and giggle as they touch the bars on the cages of deer and birds. 

A ticket costs less than $1 because people can’t afford more, Sultan said.

“I come here to have some fun, but I see the same animals every time,” said nine-year-old Fouad Saleh. “I wish I could see an elephant, a giraffe or a tiger.”

For the moment, that appears unlikely. Gaza lacks the medical facilities to treat animals like lions and tigers.

In the past, the Four Paws international animal welfare group has had to rescue animals and find them new homes in Israel, Jordan or as far away as South Africa.

“We struggle to afford the food,” said Sultan. “Sometimes we provide frozen food, chicken, turkeys, and sometimes if a donkey is injured we have it slaughtered and shared out between the lions.”

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag
Updated 06 June 2023

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

DUBAI: The UAE is tightening insurance requirements for vessels registered under its flag, according to a government advisory, amid growing concerns over ships sailing without top tier cover in the event of an oil spill.

Ships typically have protection and indemnity insurance which covers liability claims including environmental damage and injury. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.

About 90 percent of the world’s ocean going tonnage is covered by the 12 ship insurers that make up the International Group.

P&I insurers outside of the IG that cover UAE flagged ships will need to meet a number of requirements including providing evidence of membership of a recognized maritime related professional agency or regulatory body, the UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said in a June 2 advisory posted on its website.

Other requirements include providing details of the five largest settled claims or details of claims over $10 million, the advisory said, adding that applications needed to be submitted before June 30.

The advisory, which was also addressed to ship owners, said evidence would need to be shown about so-called blue cards, which cover pollution damage.

The UAE flagged fleet includes dozens of oil tankers — many of which are old — and over 200 offshore vessels typically used in oil related trading, according to shipping data on public database Equasis.

Hundreds of “ghost” tankers, which are not fully regulated, have joined an opaque parallel shipping trade over the past few years, carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions and restrictions, including Russia and Iran.

The number of incidents last year, including groundings, collisions and near misses involving these ships reached the highest in years, a Reuters investigation showed.

Ports in China’s Shandong province are demanding more detailed information about oil tankers that are more than 15 years old that call at their terminals, sources with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
Updated 06 June 2023

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
  • Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages

KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.

Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.

Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”

In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.

Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.

“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”

Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.

For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.

“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.

The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”

Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.