Syrian warplanes fly over flashpoint despite US warning

People carry their belongings as they flee Hasakah after the Syrian government deployed warplanes to bomb the Kurdish-held areas on one of the exit points of Syria on Saturday. (REUTERS/Rodi Said)
Updated 20 August 2016

Syrian warplanes fly over flashpoint despite US warning

HASAKEH, Syria: Syrian government warplanes were in the air again Saturday over the flashpoint northeastern city of Hasakah, despite a US warning against new strikes that might endanger its military advisers.
In another escalation of the five-year war, regime planes this week bombarded positions held by US-backed Kurdish forces in the city fighting the Daesh terrorist group.
The unprecedented strikes prompted the US-led coalition to scramble aircraft to protect its special operations forces helping the Kurdish fighters, warning the regime not to put the advisers on the ground at risk.
It was apparently the first time the coalition scrambled jets in response to regime action, and possibly the closest call yet in terms of Syrian forces wounding American or coalition advisers.
Throughout the night and into Saturday morning, regime warplanes took to the skies above Hasakah again, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group.
It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft had carried out any bombing runs as there were heavy artillery exchanges on the ground.
Deadly clashes erupted between pro-government militia and the US-backed Kurdish forces on Wednesday.
The Observatory said there had been no let-up in the fighting, which has left 41 people dead, 25 of them civilians, including ten children.
“There were heavy clashes, artillery fire and rocket attacks throughout the night and ongoing in the morning,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Around two-thirds of Hasakah is controlled by Kurdish forces, while the rest is held by pro-government militia.
The regime and Kurdish forces share a common enemy in Daesh, which controls most of the Euphrates valley to the south, but there have been tensions between them in Hasakah that have sometimes led to clashes.

US jets scrambled
Thursday’s government raids were the first time the regime bombarded Kurdish positions from the air.
As soon as the strikes began, Kurdish ground forces unsuccessfully tried to hail the pilots via radio.
US forces then contacted Russia, which has been bombing parts of Syria for nearly a year in support of President Bashar Assad, but Russian military officials said the planes were Syrian.
Washington’s decision to scramble its fighter jets “was done as a measure to protect coalition forces,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.
“We will ensure their safety and the Syrian regime would be well-advised not to do things that place them at risk... We view instances that place the coalition at risk with the utmost seriousness and we do have the inherent right of self-defense.”
But the Pentagon warning appeared to fall on deaf ears.
Two Syrian regime warplanes attempted to fly to the area again on Friday, but left “without further incident” after meeting coalition aircraft, a US defense official said in a statement.
“No weapons were fired by the coalition fighters.”
Davis said no coalition injuries were reported in Thursday’s strike by two Syrian SU-24s, and US advisers were moved to a safe location.
The coalition is now conducting additional combat air patrols in the region, he added.

Hasakah evacuated
A Syrian military statement said the army had taken the “appropriate response” after Kurdish forces attacked Hasakah.
The Observatory said thousands of inhabitants had begun to flee the city, where bread was running out and electricity has been cut.
A government source in Hasakah told AFP that the air strikes were “a message to the Kurds that they should stop this sort of demand,” after Kurds called for the dissolution of a pro-regime militia.
Washington regards the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as the most effective fighting force against Daesh in Syria and has provided them with air support as well as the military advisers.
US special operations forces were based around six kilometers north of Hasakah and reinforcements arrived Friday “from inside and outside Syria, accompanied by military helicopters,” Abdel Rahman said.
Separately, two Russian ships in the Mediterranean launched long-range cruise missiles against jihadist targets in Syria on Friday, the Russian defense ministry said.
The targets were linked to the former Al-Nusra Front, now Fateh Al-Sham Front, the ministry said.
It was Moscow’s first use of cruise missiles in Syria since December.
More than 290,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
In the central province of Homs, 20 civilians including at least five children died overnight in suspected regime air raids and artillery fire on a cluster of towns and villages, the Observatory said Saturday.


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”