Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Special Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
Mazloum Abdi, commander of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, speaks during a news conference in Hassakeh, Syria, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. (AP Photo)
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Updated 27 November 2022

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation

Syrian Kurds warn Washington against any Turkish ground operation
  • Threat of Daesh resurgence ‘is being used as pressure tactic on US to convince Ankara to de-escalate situation’
  • Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK

ANKARA: Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces Mazloum Abdi has told reporters that his troops have halted operations against Daesh following Turkiye’s aerial attacks on northern Syria over the past week. 

Four Turkish soldiers were killed on Saturday during Turkiye’s anti-terror operation in northern Iraq to clear the area of terrorists.

Amid signs that Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive with the help of Turkiye-backed opposition fighters, Abdi’s statement from the US-backed Kurdish forces is considered a message to Washington to put pressure on Turkiye to prevent any military move in the region.

At a time when the US is attempting to assess its relations with its NATO ally and its Kurdish partners in Syria, Turkiye’s recent air attacks have drawn some criticism from Washington regarding their close proximity to adjacent coalition bases where US soldiers are stationed.

Ankara blames Syrian offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party for the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul’s Istiklal Street that killed six Turkish citizens and injured more than 80.

Turkiye considers the SDF and its leading Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, as terror groups due to their links with the PKK.

Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute, believes that the US will not oppose Ankara as it has done in the past.

He told Arab News: “The importance of Syria is fast retreating for the US government in favor of Ukraine, and the relative significance of the YPG is diminishing.

“Turkiye’s support for the Ukraine militarily against the Russian invasion, and Ankara’s critical position as a broker for the grain corridor deal, have also added to their value for the US in the strategic picture.”

According to Cagaptay, Turkiye has also used its leverage in the wake of supporting Swedish and Finnish bids to join NATO.

He added: “NATO’s allies have voiced support for Turkiye and did not criticize their arguments against the YPG.”

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, says “the Syrian Kurds are using the threat of a Daesh resurgence as a pressure tactic on the US to convince Turkiye to de-escalate the situation.”

He told Arab News: “This is very similar to what unfolded during the 2019 Operation Peace Spring offensive in which former US President Donald Trump was heavily criticized for green-lighting Turkiye’s offensive and allowing Daesh to experience a potential recovery."

The SDF’s strategy is unlikely to work, according to Ramani, and he says it is difficult to see Washington now facing the same kind of blowback as Trump received in 2019. 

He said that Turkiye “has emerged as a critical mediator in the Ukraine war and the US has refrained from sanctions against the country over the continued use of S-400 systems for this reason.”

He added: “If it is not objecting to the procurement of Russian military technology, the US certainly will not crack down very hard on Turkiye over an escalation in northern Syria or Iraq.

“SDF officials have admitted their concern that the US will not do enough, and perceive the US as being disengaged from the Syrian conflict overall.”

SDF’s Abdi said that Turkish airstrikes over the past week had damaged the region’s infrastructure.

He added: “The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against Daesh are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped.”

Cagaptay believes that the SDF and YPG were once important partners for the US in beating Daesh, which is now defeated.

The SDF, which is the key US partner in combating Daesh in Syria, has also warned about the importance of retaining intact the security of the Al-Hol camp, which is home to Daesh family members, while the Kurdish authorities operate several detention facilities in northeastern Syria that host thousands of opposition fighters.

Cagaptay said: “YPG’s main role is now reduced to prison-keeper of the locations holding relatives of the extremists, mostly Iraqi and Syrians, that no Western country wants to take back.”

SDF’s comments came at the time of fresh reports that bases hosting US-led coalition forces in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadeh had been targeted by two rockets. The attacks were believed to have been perpetrated by militias backed by Iran.

In a short statement on Wednesday, US Central Command announced that American troops were put at risk, but no service members were injured in the strike.

Turkiye’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday that his forces would never harm coalition forces or civilians, after being questioned over allegations that warplanes hit targets near a US base in northern Syria.

Akar also held a meeting on Saturday with Chief of Turkish General Staff Yasar Guler and authorities from Turkish Land Forces Command in Ankara.

Cagaptay said: “Diminishing the security of the camps as a retaliation for Turkiye’s airstrikes will only end US support to the YPG and reduce the significance of the Syrian Kurds in the eyes of US policymakers.”

Turkiye has continued airstrikes — using fighter jets and drones — against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq and Syria to remove militants from the border.

Experts believe that SDF statements will not alter Turkiye’s plans to pursue a potential ground operation, the fourth of its kind since 2016, in the west of the Euphrates River in the coming weeks.

Ankara and Moscow agreed in 2019 to pull YPG forces back 30 km to the south of the Turkish border. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkiye “is determined to make its borders safe against terrorism.”

He added: “Hopefully, with these operations, we show our determination to gradually make every inch of our country safe, starting from beyond the border.”


Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference
Updated 29 January 2023

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

ALGIERS: Parliamentary committees of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Saturday agreed on the need to digitize the OIC’s work and organize periodic virtual sessions and meetings to enhance its work.

General secretaries unanimously agreed during preparatory meetings for the 17th session of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, which is set to be held in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Sunday.

PUIC Secretary-General Mouhamed Khouraichi Niass renewed his call for setting up a cooperation mechanism between Islamic and international parliaments to strengthen relations in all fields.

Niass expressed his hope to develop a work program to achieve the objectives of the PUIC’s General Assembly and to exchange scientific and practical expertise to upgrade the performance of the General Secretariat.

On Friday, the ninth meeting of the standing committee specialized in cultural and legal affairs and the dialogue of civilizations and religions was held, where members reviewed a number of draft resolutions related to Islamic sanctities in Muslim and non-Islamic countries, especially the protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from threats. 

The committee also dealt with combating religious intolerance and supporting dialogue among civilizations, as well as combating the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia around the world.


Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2023

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize

TUNIS: Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Barely 11 percent of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition groups and ignored by many Tunisians disillusioned with their leaders.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed.
In seven constituencies, not even one candidate bothered to run.
President Kais Saied is pinning his hopes on Sunday’s second round of voting, which will wrap up his sweeping redesign of Tunisian politics that began when he suspended the previous parliament in 2021.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied.
The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Ennahdha party, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
Some Ennahdha officials have been jailed and the party is refusing to take part in the parliamentary elections, and has held repeated protests.
In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50 percent of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats.
In the seven constituencies with no candidate, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March. Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse.
At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices.
Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohammed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
The economy is meanwhile teetering.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18 percent and exceeds 25 percent in the poor regions of the interior of the country, while inflation rate is 10.1 percent.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.

 


Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people
Updated 10 min 29 sec ago

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

DUBAI: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran near the border with Turkiye on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 300, state media reported.
The official news agency IRNA reported the toll citing the head of emergency services at the university in the city of Khoy, near the quake’s epicenter.
An emergency official told state TV that it was snowing in some of the affected areas, with freezing temperatures and some power cuts reported.
Major geological faultlines crisscross Iran, which has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.


UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
  • Child and maternal malnutrition ‘increasing at a speed never seen before,’ World Food Programme says

BEIRUT: The World Food Programme has warned that hunger rates in Syria have soared to record highs after more than a decade of devastating conflict.

A brutal war that triggered years of economic crisis and damaged vital infrastructure has put 2.9 million at risk of sliding into hunger, while another 12 million do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN agency said.
“Hunger soars to 12-year high in Syria,” as 70 percent of the population might soon be “unable to put food on the table for their families,” the statement said.
“Syria now has the sixth highest number of food insecure people in the world,” the WFP added, with food prices increasing nearly 12-fold in three years.
Child and maternal malnutrition are also “increasing at a speed never seen before,” in more than a decade of war.
If the international community does not step up to help Syrians, it risks facing “another wave of mass migration,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley during a visit to Syria this week.
“Is that what the international community wants?” he asked, urging donor countries to redouble efforts to “avert this looming catastrophe.”
The UN estimates 90 percent of the 18 million people in Syria are living in poverty, with the economy hit by conflict, drought, cholera and the Covid pandemic as well as the fallout from the financial crash in neighbouring Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests.
About half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found the regime was responsible for a chemical weapon attack on the city of Douma in 2018 lacked any evidence, and denied the allegations.
The global chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday a nearly two-year investigation had found that at least one Syrian military helicopter had dropped gas cylinders onto residential buildings in Douma, killing 43 people.
Investigators said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that at least one Syrian air force helicopter had dropped two cylinders of the toxic gas on the rebel-held town of Douma during Syria’s civil war.
“The world now knows the facts,” said Fernando Arias, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW.
“It is up to the international community to take action,” Arias said in a statement.
Damascus and its ally Moscow claimed the April 7, 2018 attack was staged by rescue workers at the behest of the US which afterwards launched airstrikes on Syria along with Britain and France.
The Douma case also caused controversy after leaks from two former employees accused the Hague-based watchdog of altering its original findings to make them sound more convincing.
But the OPCW said its investigators had “considered a range of possible scenarios” and concluded that “the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
Western powers together called on Syria to be held accountable over the “horrific” attack.
“We call on the Russian Federation to stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons,” said a joint statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.
“No amount of disinformation from the Kremlin can hide its hand in abetting the Assad regime.”

 


Loud blast heard at military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, official says no casualties

Loud blast heard at military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, official says no casualties
Updated 29 January 2023

Loud blast heard at military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, official says no casualties

Loud blast heard at military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, official says no casualties
  • There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities in the past few years

TEHRAN: A loud blast was heard at a military plant in Iran’s central city of Isfahan, but a security official said there were no casualties, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB said on its website early on Sunday.

“The explosion took place in one of the munitions manufacturing centers of the Defense Ministry and, according to an announcement by the ...deputy Isfahan governor for security, there were no casualties,” IRIB reported.

The official, Mohammad Reza Jannesar, later told state television: “The damages are being investigated as well as the causes and elements that caused this explosion and .. will be announced later.”

There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities in the past few years.

The blasts have at times caused concern amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program with Israel and the United States.

Israel has long threatened military action against Iran if indirect talks between Washington and Tehran fail to salvage a 2015 nuclear pact.