Ankara claims PKK’s Syrian offshoot is behind bloody Istanbul attack

People mourn the victims of November 13 explosion at the busy shopping street of Istiklal in Istanbul on November 14, 2022. (AFP)
People mourn the victims of November 13 explosion at the busy shopping street of Istiklal in Istanbul on November 14, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2022

Ankara claims PKK’s Syrian offshoot is behind bloody Istanbul attack

People mourn the victims of November 13 explosion at the busy shopping street of Istiklal in Istanbul on November 14, 2022. (AFP
  • Turkiye needs to tighten its border security, take additional precautions against potential cells within country, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: In an overnight raid, Istanbul police detained a 23-year-old Syrian woman, Ahlam Al-Bashir, as the prime suspect for having planted the bomb that killed six people and wounded 81 people in the city on Sunday.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, were behind Sunday’s blast in Istiklal Avenue, targeting civilians.

In a statement published by the Fırat news agency, the PKK denied any involvement in the attack, but Turkish intelligence sources insist on the high probability of the group’s role in it.




An undated photo released by Turkish police shows an unidentified blast suspect arrested in Istanbul, Turkey. (REUTERS)

Al-Bashir confessed she was trained by Kurdish militants in Syria and entered Turkiye illegally through Syria’s northwestern Afrin region, currently controlled by Turkish troops.

She was caught in the CCTV footage, wearing a hijab and camouflage, when leaving the area with a remotely controlled bomb-loaded bag.

Among the victims of the attack were a 3-year-old girl and her father, an employee at the Ministry of Family and Social Services’ branch in the southern province of Adana. They were vacationing in Istanbul.

The White House released a press statement, in which it said that the US “strongly condemns the act of violence” and reiterated that it “(stands) shoulder-to-shoulder with its NATO ally Turkiye in countering terrorism.”

Soylu, however, openly criticized the US for giving support to Kurdish militants in Syria, saying “the insincerity of our allies who officially send money is obvious” and comparing the condolences to the arrival of the murderer at the crime scene.

Security analysts insist that there was a PKK connection to the attack, based on patterns observed in previous attacks.

“This time, the PKK appears to be targeting civilians in a crowded spot in a metropolis in order to generate a wider impact on public opinion and attract more attention ahead of the elections set for next year,” Erol Bural, a retired colonel and head of the Ankara-based Research Center for Combating Terrorism and Radicalization, told Arab News.

“The ongoing anti-terror operations of Turkiye seriously weakened the PKK’s military clout within the country and in its region, which also undermined the organizational capabilities of the group as well as its popular support. The only way to regain it was through terrorism, a bomb attack, to punish Turkiye,” he said.

According to Bural, the PKK uses this pattern against civilians to instill fear and as a reminder that it still poses a threat and can repeat such acts.

Turkiye considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and PYD as linked to the PKK, an armed group listed as a terror organization by the US, EU and Turkey.

Turkiye carried out three operations in northern Syria against the YPG, while another operation was expected this year but never realized.

The PKK has fought an almost four-decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state, claiming the lives of over 40,000 people. The group has several members exiled in Sweden.

As part of the newly established consensus between Turkiye and Sweden to give the Scandinavian country’s NATO accession bid a green light, Sweden’s foreign minister in the new government recently said Stockholm needed to “distance” itself from the YPG and PYD, who control much of northern Syria.

“There is too close a link between these organizations and the PKK,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom recently told broadcaster Sveriges Radio.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson recently visited Ankara to discuss the details of its entry into NATO.

Bural believes that the latest Istanbul attack may also carry a threatening message toward European countries, implying that similar acts may happen in their countries as well if they ever restrict the PKK’s presence and its propaganda activities.

“From now on, the PKK may conduct its terror acts in big cities using its networks and proxies inside Turkiye or by deploying foreign fighters from abroad.

“In both cases, Turkiye needs to tighten its border security and take additional precautions against potential cells within the country.

“Each year, about 200 terror acts of various groups are prevented in Turkiye, but one of them escapes from the security radar and claims so many innocent lives,” Bural said.

While the PKK is seen as a top suspect in the blast, experts also draw attention to the Iranian factor in such acts of terrorism in Turkey, considering the recent disagreements between the two countries.

On July 22, Kataib Seyid el-Suheda, an Iranian-backed militia group in Iraq, shared a photo from Taksim square in Istanbul, with the slogan “Wherever we need to be, we will be there.”

The same account posted another video on July 24.

“Our eyes are on Istanbul. People loyal to Abu Alaa El-Vali,” the message in it said, referring to the leader of the Iranian-backed militia group, “are at the heart of Turkiye, just (as) they were yesterday.”

Just hours before the Istanbul attack, a controversial Iranian article also blamed Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan for playing a role in the terror attack on a Shiite religious shrine in the Iranian city of Shiraz on Oct. 22, which killed 15 people, and for promoting Azerbaijani separatism.

Daesh claimed responsibility for that attack.

Pro-Iran Shiite militia groups have been previously accused of being behind rocket attacks against a Turkish base north of Iraq’s Mosul following Turkish airstrikes that targeted the PKK there.

Turkiye launched several cross-border military operations into Syria and northern Iraq against the PKK’s hideouts following the increase in bloody terror attacks between 2015 and 2017, which killed hundreds of civilians and security personnel.

 


Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Updated 10 sec ago

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say
BEIRUT/ANKARA: Syria is resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan, three sources said on Friday, after more than a decade of bitter enmity since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
However, two Turkish sources, including a senior official, disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things were on track for an eventual meeting between the leaders.
Erdogan’s government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism, saying earlier in the conflict that peace efforts could not continue under his rule.
Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions and launching repeated military incursions inside northern Syria. Ankara is readying another possible operation, after blaming Syrian Kurdish fighters for a bombing in Istanbul.
Russia helped Assad turn the tide of the war in his favor and says it is seeking a political end to the conflict and wants to bring the two leaders together for talks.
Erdogan has signalled readiness for rapprochement.
Speaking a week after he shook hands with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi last month, after repeatedly saying he could not meet a leader who came to power in a coup, he said Turkiye could “also get things on track with Syria.”
“There can be no resentment in politics,” he said in a televised discussion at the weekend.
However, three sources with knowledge of Syria’s position on possible talks said Assad had rejected a proposal to meet Erdogan with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Two of the sources said Damascus believed such a meeting could boost Erdogan ahead of Turkish elections next year, especially if it addressed Ankara’s goal of returning some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees from Turkiye.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections,” one of the two said, adding that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
The third source, a diplomat with knowledge of the proposal, said Syria “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Turkish officials said this week the army needed just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria, where it has already carried out artillery and air strikes.
But the government has also said it is ready for talks with Damascus if they focus on security at the border, where Ankara wants Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters pushed from the frontier and refugees moved into ‘safe zones’.
An Assad-Erdogan meeting could be possible “in the not too distant future,” the senior Turkish official said.
“Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the official said. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkiye. Russia would benefit too... given it is stretched in many areas.”

Lebanese facing tax rises and more expensive imports

Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 37 min 4 sec ago

Lebanese facing tax rises and more expensive imports

Employees serve customers at a money transfer office in Lebanon's capital Beirut, on July 27, 2022. (AFP)
  • Government raises exchange rate on imports tenfold in response to devaluation of Lebanese pound

BEIRUT: Lebanon has officially adopted a new exchange rate on imports ten times the previous level, in a move that will deepen economic misery in a country already suffering hardship.

The new customs exchange rate of 15,000 Lebanese pounds a dollar replaces the previous rate of 1,500, which was in use for nearly three years.

The customs dollar is the price for calculating the customs value of imports, and is paid in Lebanese pounds.

Public concern has already risen about the ability to control instability in the markets, as merchants began adding goods to be included on the new rate.

Imports in the first seven months of this year reached $10.5 billion, and the total import for the whole year may reach $18 billion, which is a record close to pre-crisis levels, and it was interpreted as a preemption to raise the customs dollar rate.

Imported goods included cars, phones and electrical and electronic equipment.

Amin Salam, the caretaker economy minister, said on Friday that he would not authorize any additional fees that would pile further pressure on consumers buying essential items such as food.

He added that 70 percent of food commodities were exempt, and their prices would not be affected by the new rate.

The remaining products would be studied carefully, he said, adding that the government had “demanded the exemption of additional commodities, which delayed the issuance of the exempted commodities lists.”

Lebanon is suffering its worst economic crises in decades and a dramatic deterioration in the value of the national currency, which hit 41,500 to the dollar on the black market on Friday.

Salam added that his ministry, the Internal Security Forces and the State Security Apparatus had obtained signed pledges from merchants that stock already in Lebanon would be sold at the previous dollar exchange rate.

The merchants signed the pledge after some initial hesitation, he added.

Mounir Al-Bassat, head of the Syndicate of Food Industries in Lebanon, said that most raw materials for the food industry were exempt from customs, and that a lot of food was grown locally.

Al-Bassat said that the share of local produce in markets had risen from less than 30 percent before the economic crisis began to bite to between 50 percent and 60 percent now.

The raising of the exchange rate is one of the demands of the International Monetary Fund, along with raising customs and tax duties.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News that the state still had no economic recovery plan.

“All we are doing is reacting. Daily remedies for crises absorbed by the worsening collapse,” he said, adding that the government was paralysed by disagreements.

He noted that the fall in the value of the Lebanese pound had led some employers to pay a portion of salaries in dollars. Those dollars are now subject to a new tax.

Value added tax, or VAT, which is applied on purchases and some services, is also set to rise ten-fold in line with the change in customs rates, and could happen as soon as February when the official exchange rate is unified with the new customs level.

 


EU states condemn Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against civilians

EU states condemn Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against civilians
Updated 42 min 24 sec ago

EU states condemn Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against civilians

EU states condemn Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against civilians
  • Speaking on behalf of fellow EU members, France demanded the Assad regime comply with international treaties and destroy its stockpiles of the weapons
  • Joseph Manso, the US envoy to the OPCW, said his country has destroyed 98 percent of its chemical weapons and is on track to destroy the rest next year

WASHINGTON: EU member states condemned the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its own citizens during the 11-year civil war in the country, and demanded that the regime of President Bashar Assad complies with international conventions on such weapons of mass destruction.

France delivered a statement on behalf of its fellow EU members during the four-day 27th Session of the Conference of the States Parties of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which concluded at the World Forum the Hague in the Netherlands on Friday.

The CSP oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, promotes its objectives and reviews compliance with the treaty.

The EU statement called on the Syrian regime to destroy its chemical weapon stockpiles. It also reaffirmed the bloc’s commitment to preventing the use of such weapons anywhere in the world, citing several examples in recent decades.

“We condemn the use of all chemical weapons by state and non-state actors during the last 25 years, including in Iraq, Malaysia, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, on multiple occasions, in the Syrian Arab Republic,” it said.

The OPCW, of which 193 states are members, oversees the global objective to permanently rid the world of chemical weapons. According to the CSP, tens of thousands of these weapons, amounting to about 99 percent of declared global stockpiles, have already been verifiably destroyed.

OPCW investigations have concluded that the Syrian regime used deadly chemical weapons against its own citizens on several occasions during the civil war, killing and injuring thousands of innocent civilians.

Syrian representatives responded to the statement by France by describing it as “false accusations” and said the EU was using the OPCW as a “tool for political manipulation”.

“It is natural for France to lead this campaign along with some Western countries, particularly those that launched repeated aggressions on Syrian territory in 2017 and 2018 under the pretext of the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, even before those incidents were investigated,” the Syrian delegation said.

Ambassador Joseph Manso, the US permanent representative to OPCW noted during a press briefing attended by Arab News that Syria, which is a member of the organization, was stripped of its voting rights and other privileges in 2021.

He said that efforts continue to get the Syrian government to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to hold accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Manso said the US has destroyed 98 percent of its own stockpiles of chemical weapons and is on track to destroy the remainder in the next year.

Applauding the global consensus on the elimination of chemical weapons, he said: “The good news here is that this has been a highly effective treaty that has gone a long way toward eliminating an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, and the vast majority of the world’s states support this.”

Manso criticized Russia for its continuing support for the Assad regime in Syria.

He also said the US government is working with the OPCW to provide the Ukrainian government with training and equipment to help it detect chemical weapon attacks and protect civilians.

“What we’re working to do is to ensure that the Ukrainians have the necessary defensive equipment to promptly detect such an attack, to protect themselves and civilian populations (and) to have trained first responders to respond in the case of such an attack,” he said.

“We want to make sure that Ukraine is prepared in the eventuality that the Russians were to use chemical weapons.”


UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza
Updated 02 December 2022

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza

UAE sends $10 million medical supplies to Gaza
  • The medical aid will be delivered through Rafah Crossing Point

DUBAI: The UAE has sent a convoy of six trucks, loaded with 85 tons of medical supplies worth $10 million, to support hospitals in Gaza, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Friday.

The medical aid will be delivered through Rafah Crossing Point with aims to support the healthcare sector in Gaza, the report added.

“The UAE has always sought to provide all possible support to improve the humanitarian response to help the Palestinian brothers, and to provide the necessary needs for the people there, especially women and children,” read the statement.

Recently, the UAE pledged $25 million aid for Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. The aid will equip the hospital with essential medical equipment expected to benefit about 130,000 patients.


US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria
Updated 02 December 2022

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria
  • Patrols were reduced following the Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq
  • American troops are in Syria as part of fight against Daesh

RMEILAN: A US-led coalition fighting jihadists resumed regular patrols in Kurdish-held areas of northeast Syria on Friday after earlier Turkish air strikes, an AFP correspondent and a Kurdish military source said.
Patrols were reduced following the Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq, in response to a deadly Istanbul bombing that Ankara blamed on Kurdish groups.
The Kurds denied responsibility.
Hundreds of American troops are in Syria as part of the fight against remnants of the Daesh group jihadists.
Two four-vehicle patrols bearing US flags set off separately from a base in Rmeilan in Hasakah province, the AFP correspondent said.
A vehicle belonging to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accompanied each convoy, which traveled in different directions toward Syria’s borders.
“The international coalition in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed its usual patrols in northeast Syria following a reduction due to Turkish strikes in the area,” a Kurdish military source told AFP.
The source requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
The usual 20 weekly patrols had dropped to around five or six following the Turkish strikes, which Ankara said it carried out with aircraft and drones.
The US supports the SDF, which is the Kurds’ de facto army in the area and led the battle that dislodged IS from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.
Turkiye said it struck targets of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF but which Ankara sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkiye and its Western allies designate the PKK as a terrorist group.
The SDF “needs to focus on repelling the Turkish threats and protecting its areas,” the Kurdish military source said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor with a vast network of sources on the ground, said patrols were also seen Friday in Deir Ezzor province further south.
Turkiye has also threatened a ground operation in the semi-autonomous Syrian Kurdish zones, something which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday expressed “strong opposition” to.
The SDF has warned that a Turkish incursion would jeopardize the fight against Daesh.