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.


Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
Updated 02 October 2022

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’

Palestinian activists turn to TikTok amid Israeli anger over ‘propaganda videos’
  • After Facebook, Instagram clamp down on content, Chinese-owned platform sees user surge

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists are turning to TikTok to rally against activities by Israel, which accused the social media platform of igniting the security situation in the Middle East in recent weeks.

Israel had successfully pushed Meta to block thousands of Palestinian accounts and content from its social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to limiting Palestinian content through Twitter and Snapchat. However, TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has rejected the Israeli allegations and refused to change its policies.

Thousands of Palestinian social media activists switched to TikTok during the past few weeks to enjoy online freedom and bypass Facebook’s restrictions.

Amer Hamdan, a Palestinian political activist, told Arab News that he recently switched from Facebook to Tiktok after suffering from restrictions imposed by the former, which he said flags the use of words including martyr, resistance and occupation.

Hamdan, who had 200,000 followers on his Facebook page, added that his account was closed because he published a picture of Khalil Al-Wazir, the Palestinian leader who Israel assassinated in Tunisia in 1988.

“Because Facebook is no longer the ideal platform for the Palestinians to spread their cause, the alternative is TikTok, which provides an adequate and sufficient space for the dissemination of media covering armed parades of Palestinian military groups and pictures of Palestinian resistance fighters with their weapons,” said Hamdan.

TikTok previously ranked third in Palestine — after Facebook and Instagram — in social media app usage. However, it jumped to second place during recent weeks, with Palestinian social media experts telling Arab News that though 3 million Palestinian accounts are on Facebook, more than 1 million Palestinians are on TikTok, with the number rapidly increasing.

Palestinian activists also see more technical flexibility while publishing on Tiktok compared to Facebook, with the platform allowing three-minute clips for all users, and 15-minute videos for users who have 1,000 followers or more.

“Within a year, TikTok will be the number one social media platform used by Palestinians,” Hamdan said.

Sam Bahour, an expert in business development affairs, said that social media is gaining “exceptional importance” for Palestinians by enabling them to communicate and bypass Israeli restrictions across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well worldwide through the diaspora.

Ahmed Al-Qadi, from a center that specializes in researching social media activities, told Arab News that after the violent events in the Palestinian territories last May and after Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube removed Palestinian content, people switched to TikTok.

On the other hand, Israeli political analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem told Arab News that TikTok is a “tool of dangerous influence” and incites violence through videos glorifying attacks against Israelis.

Ben-Menachem added that TikTok content targets young people, who are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and propaganda.

Last May, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior officials from ByteDance, demanding that the company block Palestinian content. But Gantz’s appeal was denied, with the company only promising to pay more attention to published content.

Young Palestinians have filmed Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities and towns, house demolitions, arrests, killings, settler attacks and racist treatment, with the content going viral on TikTok.

Despite the Israeli government’s anger, officials do not expect TikTok to take any action against Palestinian accounts, whether based in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or abroad.

“Maybe TikTok will close a few Palestinian accounts, but thousands of accounts that incite against Israel will remain active, and whoever loses his account can open a new account under a pseudonym,” said Ben-Menachem, adding: “TikTok has become the most dangerous means of incitement against Israel.”


International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
Updated 02 October 2022

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce

International community urges Yemeni parties to renew truce
  • Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce
  • Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce

AL-MUKALLA: A six-month-old UN-brokered ceasefire in Yemen’s war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Arab coalition ended on Sunday with no word from the rivals on whether it would be extended.

The US, UK, China, other world powers and the secretary-general of the Arab League have all urged Yemen’s government and the Iran-backed Houthis to extend the UN-brokered truce.

Despite mounting pressure, only the Yemeni government had earlier agreed to extend the truce.

The US ambassador to Yemen, Steven H. Fagin, expressed concern about the various Yemeni parties’ hesitation to express their support for extending the truce.

“I call on the parties not to squander the progress of the last six months and to prioritize the Yemeni people by accepting an extension and expansion of the truce,” Fagin said in a brief statement. 

On Sunday, the UK Ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim reissued the same call to the Houthis and other Yemeni parties to follow the UN envoy’s suggestions for extending the truce.

“I encourage the Houthis to work with the UN to extend the Truce. It’s the only route that will provide an opportunity for them to deliver benefits for ordinary Yemenis” he said on Twitter. 

The UN-brokered truce, which began on April 2 and has been extended twice, has dramatically reduced violence in Yemen, allowed flights to leave Sanaa airport, and eliminated fuel shortages throughout the country by allowing dozens of fuel ships to reach the port of Hodeidah.

The only term of the truce that has not been implemented is the opening of roads in besieged Taiz, as the Houthis have refused to open at least one main road leading into and out of the city, which is the main demand of the Yemeni government.

As the UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, shuttled between Muscat, Riyadh, and Sanaa to persuade Yemeni leaders to renew the truce, foreign diplomats and humanitarian organizations in Yemen sent last-minute appeals to both sides on Sunday.

“China emphasizes its support for the special envoy and is willing to make unremitting efforts with the international community to resolve the Yemen issue,” the Chinese Embassy in Yemen said in a statement. 

The EU’s mission in Yemen also demanded that the Yemeni government and the Houthis accept the UN envoy’s proposal, renew the truce, and implement its provisions.

“Time to consolidate and develop a truce, including opening roads and agreeing on the payment of salaries, that has delivered and can bring more benefits to the #Yemeni people,” the mission said in a statement on Twitter.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Sunday urged the Houthis to “positively” comply with initiatives and efforts to renew the truce and work to alleviate suffering.

The latest UN proposal includes a six-month cease-fire while the Houthis open only minor roads in Taiz, paying public employees in their territories, while the Yemeni government covers any shortfall in payments, allowing more fuel ships to enter Hodeidah port, and opening new routes from Sanaa to Muscat, Doha, and Mumbai. 

Rashad Al-Alimi, president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, expressed his government’s support for the UN Yemen envoy’s efforts to extend the truce.

During a meeting with the UN envoy in Riyadh on Sunday, the Yemeni leader stated that he is committed to supporting any peace initiative to end the war in Yemen and alleviate the suffering of Yemenis, and he urged mounting pressure on the Houthis and their Iranian backers to stop undermining peace efforts.

In Sanaa, the Houthis rejected calls to renew the truce on Saturday night, threatening to resume military operations, including strikes on oil companies in government-controlled areas.


UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
Updated 02 October 2022

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended

UN Yemen envoy expresses regret after truce expires without being extended
  • The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended
  • Envoy said the extended and expanded truce would have provided critical benefits to Yemen’s population

RIYADH: The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg expressed regret on Sunday that an agreement to extend and expand the truce in the country had not been reached.

“The truce that began on April.2, 2022 has offered a truly historic opportunity for Yemen. Building on the positive outcomes of the past six months, I submitted another proposal to the parties on Oct.1 to extend the truce for another six months, with additional elements,” Grundberg said in a statement.

The ceasefire has twice been renewed since April. 2 but expired on Sunday without being extended.

The proposal included the payment of civil servant salaries and pensions, the opening of specific roads in Taiz and other governorates, additional destinations for flights to and from Sanaa airport, unhindered entry of fuel ships into Hodeidah port, strengthening deescalation mechanisms, and a commitment to urgently release detainees, the envoy said.

It also included the initiation of negotiations for a ceasefire, the resumption of an inclusive political process, and economic issues.

The envoy said that the extended and expanded truce would provide additional critical benefits to Yemen’s population.

He thanked the Yemeni government for engaging positively with his proposal and said he will continue to work with both sides to find solutions.

“I am grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides over the past weeks. And I appreciate the position of the government of Yemen on engaging positively with my proposal. I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions,” Grundberg said.

The envoy urged the parties to maintain calm and refrain from provocations or any actions that could lead to an escalation of violence in the war-torn country.

“I urge them to fulfil their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace. Ultimately, Yemenis need an end to the conflict through an inclusive political process and a negotiated settlement. I will continue my relentless efforts to engage with the parties to quickly reach an agreement on a way forward,” he said.


King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
Updated 02 October 2022

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman

King Abdullah II to make official visit to Oman
  • Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Sultan Haitham bin Tarik will meet in Muscat

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II, accompanied by Queen Rania and Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, will arrive in Oman on Tuesday for an official visit.

The king’s trip comes after an invitation from Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, Jordan News Agency reported.

During the two day visit, the two leaders will hold talks in Muscat about their deep bilateral ties as well as the most recent regional and international developments.

 


Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation
Updated 02 October 2022

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation

Jordan, Qatar discuss security cooperation
  • Jordanian official noted its keenness to support Qatar during the World Cup

AMMAN: Jordan’s Director of the Public Security Directorate and the Qatari Ambassador to Jordan met on Sunday to discuss strengthening security and police cooperation, particularly in training, Petra News Agency reported.

Brig Gen Obaidullah Maaytah spoke with Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al-Thani about Jordan’s deep ties with Qatar, noting that the PSD was eager to support Qatar during the World Cup.

In turn, Al-Thani praised the PSD and emphasized the level of cooperation between Jordanian and Qatari police, urging continued efforts to expand bilateral cooperation.