Turkiye threat to Kurdish militants a ‘shot across the bow’ to US, analysts say

Special Turkiye threat to Kurdish militants a ‘shot across the bow’ to US, analysts say
A man drives a motorcycle past the Zarba oil facility, after a Turkish airstike, Al-Qahtaniyah, northeastern Syria, close to the Turkish border, Oct. 5, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 05 October 2023
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Turkiye threat to Kurdish militants a ‘shot across the bow’ to US, analysts say

Turkiye threat to Kurdish militants a ‘shot across the bow’ to US, analysts say
  • Warning that all PKK and YPG sites are ‘legitimate military targets’ viewed as a precursor to a high-level cross-border Turkish operation
  • Bombing outside the Interior Ministry in Ankara was claimed by the HPG, a faction associated with the PKK

ANKARA: Turkiye’s threat to strike Kurdish militant sites across its border is a “shot across the bow” to the US and other actors in the Syrian conflict, analysts have told Arab News.

The warning on Wednesday — that all PKK and YPG sites are “legitimate military targets” — is viewed as a precursor to a high-level cross-border Turkish operation.

With normalization between Ankara and Damascus “already losing momentum,” a new offensive could involve “jets, drones and howitzers” striking specific targets, said Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the ORSAM think tank.

And Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan’s vague warning for “third parties” to “steer clear” of Turkish targets is also a show of force by Ankara to the US, Damascus, Iran and Russia, Orhan added.

Fidan said on Wednesday that all infrastructure and energy facilities belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, and its Syrian Kurdish affiliate, People’s Protection Units YPG in Syria and Iraq, are now legitimate military targets.

The bombing outside the Interior Ministry in Ankara on Sunday was claimed by the HPG, a faction associated with the PKK, according to Turkish authorities.

“I recommend that third parties steer clear of these targeted facilities,” Fidan — former head of the country’s National Intelligence Organization — warned on Wednesday, without specifying the identity of any “third parties.”

The ambiguity surrounding the statement has sparked vigorous debate over Fidan’s warning to the US and other actors in the Syrian conflict.

Turkish officials have confirmed that the two attackers responsible for the Sunday bombing were PKK members who entered Turkiye from Syria, potentially from Tal Rifaat or Manbij.

The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkiye and is considered a terror organization by the US, the EU, and Turkiye.

One of the assailants detonated an explosive device, while the other was killed in a subsequent gunfight with police.

Two police officers were injured.

The two attackers had stolen their vehicle from a veterinarian, who they killed in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri, a city located southeast of Ankara.

In response to the Sunday attack in northern Iraq, Turkish jets have carried out several cross-border airstrikes against PKK bases in caves, shelters and depots.

Unmanned armed drones belonging to Turkiye’s National Intelligence Agency also hit several targets in Hasakah city in northern Syria on Wednesday evening and Thursday, destroying critical YPG bases.

Earlier this week in Hasakah, the Turkish National Intelligence Organization also killed Nabo Kele Hayri, code-named Mazlum Afrin, the figure believed to be behind last year’s bloody bomb attack on Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Street.

Amid tension following the airstrikes, Iraqi Defense Minister Thabit Mohammed Al-Abbasi will visit Ankara on Thursday to meet his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler.

Rich Outzen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Jamestown Foundation, told Arab News: “The public statements by Foreign Minister Fidan, coupled with high-level security meetings being held in Ankara, indicate that a high-profile operation will likely be conducted in the next day or so.”

According to Outzen, on one level, any operation would be a direct response to the PKK attack, while on another level, it would also serve as a shot across the bow to the US and its anti-Daesh coalition partners that the continued — and in some cases increasing — proximity of Western forces to PKK-linked strategy contravenes Turkish security red lines.

For example, the presence of US advisers in Iraq with SDF/YPG leader Mazloom Abdi in Sulaymaniya earlier this year “indicates an apparent erosion in carefully delimiting support to Daesh in Iraq,” he said.

But Outzen added that Fidan’s latest warning does not appear to be a threat or demand for US withdrawal from northeast Syria.

He said that the statement concerns the when, where and why of US-YPG operations.
“There is low risk in the eyes of the Turks for the known US operating locations or in the field during Daesh operations. But there is a higher risk with YPG fighters in convoys, Iraq, or areas of Syria near the Turkish border,” he said.

“Especially given that the Turks believe the YPG facilitated the entry of the terrorists in this week’s attack from Syria into Turkiye, they view all PKK/YPG locations in northern Syria as potential terror launching points and, therefore, legitimate targets,” Outzen said.

He added that US forces “will almost certainly have to adjust their rules of engagement to account for this.”

Outzen believes that Washington’s response to Fidan’s statement will be to discretely, via diplomatic and defense channels, strongly reiterate its red line of safeguarding the US presence in the region.

“It would be well advised to also communicate at the same time clear rules of engagement about when and where US forces will travel with SDF/YPG personnel, and which locations likely have US presence,” he said.

Outzen added that this will be necessary from a force protection point of view.
“There may be some public push back from Congress or commentators about implied or veiled threat, but I don’t think that’s the real story here.”

Speaking at the opening session of the Legislative Year of the 28th Term of the Turkish parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan highlighted the country’s strategy to protect its southern border with a security zone at least 30 km deep.

“The new steps we will take are just a matter of preparation, time and the right conditions. That is why the saying ‘we may turn up suddenly one night’ should never fall on deaf ears,” he said.

Orhan of the ORSAM think tank said that recent military maneuvers by Turkiye, along with statements made by prominent figures such as Fidan and Erdogan, may signal an impending offensive in the region.

“The normalization process between Ankara and Damascus has already lost momentum due to Syria’s uncompromising demands for a complete Turkish military withdrawal from the northern regions of the war-torn country,” said Orhan.

Ankara “had initially advocated for dialogue with the Syrian regime, expecting cooperation against the presence of PKK/YPG forces on Syrian soil. However, no substantial progress has been achieved in this regard,” he told Arab News.

Orhan said that Fidan’s warning to third parties conveyed a message to all factions engaged in the Syrian conflict.

This message extended not only to the US, but also to Damascus, Russia and Iran, he added.

“Previously, Turkish drones hit energy facilities belonging to the PKK/YPG several times. This time, a new offensive along the borders could involve jets, drones and howitzers to strike specific targets,” he said.

However, Orhan added that a full Turkish ground offensive appears unlikely.
Instead, he suggested that any potential operation would be tactical, primarily intended to communicate Turkiye’s security priorities to all actors in the region.

The military maneuvers coincide with the restart of work on a crude oil pipeline from Iraq this week after the February earthquakes suspended operations.


More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
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More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch

More aid getting from US pier to people in Gaza, officials say, after troubled launch
  • Crowds overrun some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend, leading to a two-day suspension of aid distribution
  • At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million

WASHINGTON: A six-day-old US pier project in Gaza is starting to get more aid to Palestinians in need but conditions are challenging, US officials said Thursday. That reflects the larger problems bringing food and other supplies to starving people in the besieged territory.

The floating pier had a troubled launch, with crowds overrunning some of the first trucks coming from the new US-led sea route and taking its contents over the weekend. One man in the crowd was shot dead in still-unexplained circumstances. It led to a two-day suspension of aid distribution.
The US military worked with the UN and Israeli officials to select safer alternate routes for trucks coming from the pier, US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters Thursday.
As a result, the US pier on Wednesday accounted for 27 of the 70 total trucks of aid that the UN was able to round up from all land and sea crossings into Gaza for distribution to civilians, the United States said.
That’s a fraction of the 150 truckloads of food, emergency nutrition treatment and other supplies that US officials aim to bring in when the sea route is working at maximum capacity.
Plus, Gaza needs 600 trucks entering each day, according to the US Agency for International Development, to curb a famine that the heads of USAID and the UN World Food Program have said has begun in the north and to keep it from spreading south.

Only one of the 54 trucks that came from the pier Tuesday and Wednesday encountered any security issues on their way to aid warehouses and distribution points, US officials said. They called the issues “minor” but gave no details.
A deepening Israeli offensive in the southern city of Rafah has made it impossible for aid shipments to get through the crossing there, which is a key source for fuel and food coming into Gaza. Israel says it is bringing aid in through another border crossing, Kerem Shalom, but humanitarian organizations say Israeli military operations make it difficult for them to retrieve the aid there for distribution.
The Biden administration last week launched the $320 million floating pier for a new maritime aid route into Gaza as the seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war and Israeli restrictions on land crossings have severely limited food deliveries to 2.3 million Palestinians.
For all humanitarian efforts, “the risks are manifold,” Daniel Dieckhaus, USAID’s response director for Gaza, said at a briefing with Cooper. “This is an active conflict with deteriorating conditions.”
Dieckhaus rejected charges from some aid groups that the pier is diverting attention from what the US, UN and relief workers say is the essential need for Israel to allow full access to land crossings for humanitarian shipments.
For instance, Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official now leading Refugees International, tweeted that “the pier is humanitarian theater.”
“I would not call, within a couple of days, getting enough food and other supplies for tens of thousands of people for a month theater,” Dieckhaus said Thursday when asked about the criticism.
At maximum capacity, the pier would bring in enough food for 500,000 of Gaza’s people. US officials stressed the need for flow through open land crossings for the remaining 1.8 million.
 


Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation
Updated 26 min 35 sec ago
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Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

Three US troops have non-combat injuries during Gaza pier operation

WASHINGTON: Three US troops suffered non-combat injuries in the effort to make a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza into a conduit for humanitarian aid, with one in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, US officials said on Thursday.

The injuries were the first for US forces during the latest operation to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation last week.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of US Central Command, told reporters that two of the troops had a sprained ankle and a minor back injury.

“Two were very minor, routine injuries. Those individuals returned to duty,” Cooper said.

A third service member, injured on a ship at sea, was medically evacuated to a hospital in Israel, he said. A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the individual was in critical condition.

US lawmakers have voiced concern about the risks to positioning US troops off the coast of Gaza. Biden has said they will not step foot in the war-torn city itself.

The Pentagon has said it will prioritize the safety of US military personnel.

“We’re clear eyed and we continue to look at force protection all day, every day and as it stands now we assess the operations can continue,” Cooper said.

Social media images showed a US air defense system, known as the Counter Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (CRAM), firing into the sky while on the pier. US officials said troops were testing the system.

Daniel Dieckhaus of the US Agency for International Development said that since the pier opened last week, about 506 metric tons of aid had been handed off to humanitarian groups inside Gaza. About a third of that has not yet been distributed but would be soon, he said.


Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day
Updated 23 May 2024
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Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

Medic says Gaza hospital under Israeli siege for fifth day

GAZA STRIP: A senior official at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza said it was under Israeli military siege for a fifth straight day on Thursday after soldiers stormed it the previous day.

“We are still under siege for the fifth day in a row,” said the hospital’s acting director, Dr. Mohammed Saleh.

“Soldiers are present in the hospital’s courtyard and nearby houses,” he said, adding that there was “continuous gunfire and shelling” toward it.

Troops stormed the hospital building on Wednesday evening, he said.

“The hospital was stormed, and staff were forced to leave. I currently have only 13 staff, 11 patients, and two women accompanying wounded children,” Saleh said.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X that 140 staff, patients, and accompanying adults were inside the hospital when troops stormed it.

The WHO visited Al-Awda regularly in April to deliver medical supplies and fuel, but on Tuesday Ghebreyesus said snipers were targeting the building and artillery had hit the fifth floor.

On Tuesday, patients and staff were also evacuated from another hospital in northern Gaza, Kamal Adwan, its director, Dr. Hossam Abu Safia, said at the time.

“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza. Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative,” Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

Israeli troops have previously raided other medical facilities in Gaza, including Al-Shifa in Gaza City, the territory’s largest hospital, which was reduced to rubble after an operation in March, the WHO said.


Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
Updated 23 May 2024
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Bahrain’s King Hamad says he is looking forward to improved relations with Iran

Russian President Vladimir receives Bahrain's King Hamad at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2024. (BNA)
  • King meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin 

RIYADH: Bahrain’s King Hamad said his country was looking forward to improving its relations with Iran during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.
The king added that there was no reason for Bahrain to postpone the resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Thursday.
The king and Putin discussed the war in Gaza, regional and international efforts aimed at reaching a ceasefire, and the release of hostages and detainees. They also focused on providing humanitarian aid without obstacles to the territory’s civilian population.
They highlighted the importance of advancing the course of diplomatic action to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and achieving a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The leaders also said efforts to recognize the Palestinian state and accept it as a permanent member of the UN should be supported.
They also stressed the importance of the UN Security Council assuming its responsibilities toward resolving and ending global conflicts, and working to settle them in accordance with the rules of international law and the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.
The king informed the Russian president of the outcomes of the Arab Summit held recently in Bahrain, adding that Arab countries appreciated Russia’s sympathy for just Arab causes.
The king and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for the convening of an international conference at the summit, which would take place under the auspices of the UN, to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution.
The king added that he hoped to host the conference and requested Russia’s support for it.


Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
Updated 23 May 2024
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Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state

Arab Parliament welcomes move to recognize Palestinian state
  • The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state
  • Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed”

CAIRO: The Arab Parliament has welcomed a decision by the governments of Spain, Norway and Ireland to recognize the state of Palestine.
The prime ministers of the three countries said on Wednesday that they would formally recognize Palestine as a state on May 28.
All three said they hoped the decision would accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its eighth month.
The parliament described the move as a victory for justice and the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state.
It said the decision was a “new victory for the Palestinian cause and Palestinian diplomacy,” and an important step toward recognition by many countries worldwide.
The parliament said the recognition supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, foremost of which is the establishment of an independent state with the city of Jerusalem as its capital.
It said that the announcements come at a time when Israel is working to destroy the Palestinian cause through “ethnic cleansing and forced displacement against civilians, including children, women, and the elderly, against whom war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed.”
Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state represented a practical response to Israel’s plans to “liquidate the Palestinian cause, which will not succeed,” it added.
The parliament called on countries that have not yet recognized the state of Palestine to take a step toward “ending the historical injustice to which the Palestinian people have been exposed for decades of occupation and per the internationally recognized two-state solution based on international legitimacy resolutions.”
It called on the international community and all countries to stand with the Palestinian people and their just cause.
Ireland has said it will upgrade its representative office in the West Bank to a full embassy, while the Palestinian mission in Ireland will also be offered full embassy status.