Archive for November 23, 2017


October 17, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Poland for talks on international security and on his policies at home. Erdogan is to meet Tuesday with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and parliament speakers. He is expected to attend a Polish-Turkish business forum with Duda.

Duda’s adviser Andrzej Szczerski said there will be no “taboo” themes and the talks will include the situation in Turkey, where tens of thousands of people have been arrested or dismissed from their jobs since last year’s coup attempt.

Szczerski argued on radio RMF that it is important to maintain relations with Turkey because it is an important NATO member and European Union’s partner with a key role in the migration crisis and in Middle East politics.

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2017-10-11

NOVI PAZAR – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan received a rapturous welcome on Wednesday during a visit to the Serbian town of Novi Pazar, capital of the Muslim majority Sandzak region that has seen mass emigration to Turkey since the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

Erdogan, on a two-day visit to Serbia, hopes to boost Turkey’s economic and cultural influence in the Balkan region, which was part of the Ottoman empire for centuries, at a time of increased tensions with the European Union and United States.

“We have special relations with this region. Your happiness is our happiness, your pain is our pain,” Erdogan told more than 10,000 people gathered in front of the municipality building.

“Sandzak is the biggest bridge linking us with our brothers in Serbia,” he said, with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic standing close by.

Turkish influence is already strong among fellow Muslims in Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo, but mainly Orthodox Christian Serbia is traditionally much closer to Russia. However, Belgrade and Ankara, which both want to join the EU but are frustrated by the slow pace of progress, are keen to increase bilateral trade.

Erdogan said Turkey would finance the construction of a road linking Sandzak with the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, reconstruct an Ottoman-era hammam and build a bridge in Novi Pazar.

In Belgrade on Tuesday, Erdogan pledged gas and Turkish investments for the Balkans and he signed deals with Vucic to expand a bilateral free trade agreement.

In Novi Pazar, local people waved Turkish flags and the green and blue flags of Serbia’s Muslim community, and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest). A big banner read “Welcome Sultan” and was signed by “Ottoman grandchildren”.

“Erdogan is our nation’s leader, Vucic is our state leader, this is the greatest day for us Muslims to have them both here,” Ismail Ismailovic, 28, from the nearby town of Tutin, farmer, sporting long beard and white embroidered Muslim skull cap.

It was a far cry from the 1990s when Serbia and Turkey were sharply at odds in the conflicts that tore apart Yugoslavia. Turkey sees itself as the historic defender of Muslims across the Balkan region.

“I know I am not going to be welcomed here like Erdogan is,” said Vucic, who was a firebrand Serbian nationalist during the wars of the 1990s but has turned strongly pro-EU. “But at least I can come out and say that I am working in your best interest.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85351.

October 09, 2017

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says a Turkish court has overturned the conviction of an opposition lawmaker imprisoned for allegedly exposing state secrets.  Anadolu Agency said an Istanbul appeals court quashed the conviction handed to Enis Berberoglu, a legislator from the main opposition People’s Republican Party, or CHP, and ordered a new trial.

Berberoglu was sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this year for allegedly leaking footage to an opposition newspaper suggesting Turkey smuggled arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. He was convicted of revealing state secrets and espionage.

In July, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu led a 450-kilometer (280-mile) march from Ankara to the prison where Berberoglu was being held, to protest the government’s crackdown following last year’s failed coup.

September 30, 2017

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The Turkish government has opened a military training base, its largest in Africa, in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The Turkish chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire inaugurated the newly-constructed facility on Saturday.

Khaire thanked Turkey for “unwavering” support to help Somalia rebuild its fractured army and stabilize the war-torn country. Two hundred Turkish military officers will train 10,000 Somali soldiers at the base which includes army dormitories, training grounds and prisons.

Somalia’s army, including former militia, is struggling to battle the Islamic extremist al-Shabab insurgents who are fighting to establish an Islamic state under strict Shariah law. The Somali government is challenged to take over the country’s security before the scheduled withdrawal of 22,000 African Union forces late next year.

September 24, 2017

An orphanage, which has been built by a Turkish aid agency and hosts currently 100 Rohingya children, is now preparing to welcome more.

The Turkey-based Yardımeli aid agency in March inaugurated the orphanage complex in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to provide shelter to 100 Rohingya orphans and give education to 500 local students.

The Yardımeli Darul Hikme Education and Social Complex, which reserves three-floor school building and a mosque, was built on an area of 12,000 square meters (129,166 square feet). The school building has 20 classrooms, five dormitory rooms for orphans and two large halls for social activities.

“All these work we have done here is financed by the compassionate Turkish people,” said Yardımeli’s Bangladesh Coordinator Mehmet Çitil.

“On behalf of Rohingya and people of Bangladesh, I thank all of our brothers and sisters from Turkey and Europe for their support to those who are in need.”

Çitil said that Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has also took part in meeting needs such as desks and bunk beds.

“Wherever you go in the world, Turkey is now known as a country that is reaching out to needy people…,” he added.

A statement released by the agency on Friday said that 600 families were provided with food supplies in Tamfali refugee camp under the scope of urgent food aid program, urging donors to contribute more since the number of refugees in camps are rising day by day.

It added that the agency is using the complex and 29 affiliated masjids in the region as centers for its aid efforts.

Describing the complex as a “great structure and a great way to obtain better and educated generation”, the school principal Mujib Siraj thanked Turkish government and those who contributed.

Over 1,100 Rohingya children feeling violence in Myanmar have arrived alone in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, according to UNICEF report and other 600,000 Rohingya children could flee to Bangladesh by the end of the year.

These children are at a risk of sexual abuse, human trafficking and psychological trauma.

Since Aug. 25, more than 429,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the UN’s migration agency.

In total, more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees are now believed to be in Bangladesh, including the arrivals since Aug. 25.

The refugees are fleeing a fresh security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the issue with the UN.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Source: Jasarat.

Link: http://en.jasarat.com/2017/09/24/turkey-builds-orphanage-in-bangladesh-to-host-rohingya-children/.

September 24, 2017

Turkey would build shelters for 100,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, an official of Turkey’s state-run aid body said on Sunday.

According to a press release, Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency’s (TIKA) Bangladesh Coordinator Ahmet Refik Cetinkaya held a meeting with Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya.

“Turkey will soon provide 10,000 packets of aid [to Rohingya Muslims],” Cetinkaya told the minister.

He said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag would visit Bangladesh.

Since August 25, more than 429,000 Rohingya have crossed from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine into Bangladesh, according to the UN’s migration agency. In total, more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees are now believed to be in Bangladesh, including the arrivals since August 25.

The refugees are fleeing a fresh security operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.

Turkey has been at the forefront of providing aid to Rohingya refugees and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the issue with the UN.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170924-turkey-to-build-shelters-for-100000-rohingya/.

November 20, 2017

Over the last eight months, Turkey has rebuilt over 400 damaged schools in Syria’s Aleppo region, enabling 152,000 children to continue their education.

After the Operation Euphrates Shield operation, Turkey’s National Education Ministry launched a study for a total of 458 schools in Aleppo’s Jarabulus, Al-Bab, Cobanbey and Azez regions.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the ministry’s Lifelong Education Director Ali Riza Altunel said: “I believe the number of students will increase to around 170,000 by the end of the first semester.”

Altunel said the ministry had been running its program since March after Operation of Euphrates Shield was successfully wrapped up by the Turkish military.

“There were enough numbers of primary and middle schools, but a very small amount of high schools,” Altunel said. “In March, we only managed to continue with lessons in only three schools. By the end of June, the number increased to 103 schools.”

The director said children in the rebuilt regions were “extremely happy with Turkey’s contributions,” with Syrian children painting banners saying they continue their education “no matter what”.

“This is the reaction we are glad to receive in exchange for our hard work,” Altunel said.

The director said children in the region were unable to receive a proper education in the last five years.

“So, we launched a ‘compensation program’ for children to make up for the lack of the education,” he said. “We are working hard to graduate children from elementary schools for them to continue with middle school.”

Syria has remained locked in a vicious civil war since 2011. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the conflict and millions more displaced, according to UN figures.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171120-turkey-rebuilds-over-400-war-torn-schools-in-syria/.

2017-11-19

DEIR EZZOR – The Syrian army and loyalist militiamen Sunday retook full control of Albu Kamal from the Islamic State group, a military source said, ousting the jihadists from their last urban stronghold in Syria.

Albu Kamal has changed hands several times, with government forces announcing the capture of the town near the Iraqi border earlier this month but losing it to a blistering IS counter-attack a week ago.

“Syrian troops and allied forces took full control of Albu Kamal, and are removing mines and explosives left by IS,” the military source in Deir Ezzor said on Sunday.

“IS put up fierce resistance and tried to use explosives and suicide bombers, but besieging the city allowed the army to clinch the offensive and take full control of the city,” the source added.

State news agency SANA also reported the advance in Albu Kamal, saying the “Syrian army and its allies eliminated the last Daesh (IS) terrorist pocket in the town.”

A string of territorial defeats across northern and eastern Syria had left Albu Kamal as the last significant Syrian town held by IS.

Syria’s army announced on November 9 it had ousted IS from the town, but the jihadists launched a lightning offensive and retook it.

A week later, the army and allied Iraqi, Lebanese, and Iranian fighters broke back into Albu Kamal and steadily advanced through the town.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Sunday that Syrian troops and their allies had captured Albu Kamal.

“IS fighters withdrew from the city towards the Euphrates River,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

“There is no more fighting in the town, but there are clashes around Albu Kamal,” he said.

The monitor said more than 80 fighters were killed in the three days of ferocious push to retake the town, including 31 pro-regime forces and at least 50 IS jihadists.

IS seized large areas of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a lightning 2014 campaign, but this year has lost much of the territory it once held.

The loss of Albu Kamal caps the group’s reversion to an underground guerrilla organisation with no urban base.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86013.

2017-11-03

DAMASCUS – Syria’s army has seized Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State group, state media said Friday, driving the jihadists from the last major city where they were present.

“The army announces full control of Deir Ezzor city,” state television said in a breaking news alert, citing sources on the ground.

State news agency SANA also reported that Deir Ezzor had been “fully liberated.”

State television reported that engineering units from the army were combing captured neighborhoods to defuse mines and other explosives.

On Thursday, a reporter contributing to AFP saw widespread destruction in the city, with whole buildings hit by air strikes or artillery fire crumpled into themselves and streets strewn with rubble.

Trenches dug by IS fighters to defend their positions were still visible as government minesweepers worked.

Syrian troops and allied fighters backed by Russian air power have been battling inside the eastern city since September, when they broke an IS siege of nearly three years on government-held districts.

In recent days they have advanced, capturing a string of neighborhoods and encircling remaining IS fighters.

The city is the provincial capital of surrounding Deir Ezzor province, an oil-rich region that sits on the county’s eastern border with Iraq.

The province was once largely held by IS, though parts of Deir Ezzor city stayed under government control throughout the jihadist group’s reign.

IS is now facing twin assaults in the province, from the army as well as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

The jihadist group has lost much of the territory it once held in the province. Its most important remaining position is the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=85744.

OCTOBER 31, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – With Islamic State near defeat in Syria, Damascus is setting its sights on territory held by Kurdish-led forces including eastern oil fields, risking a new confrontation that could draw the United States in more deeply and complicate Russian diplomacy.

President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies appear to have been emboldened by events in Iraq, where Kurdish authorities have suffered a major blow since regional states mobilized against their independence referendum, analysts say.

Rivalry between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by the United States, and the Syrian government backed by Iran and Russia is emerging as a fault line with their common enemy – Islamic State – close to collapse in Syria.

Syria’s main Kurdish groups hope for a new phase of negotiations that will shore up their autonomy in northern Syria. Assad’s government, however, is asserting its claim to areas captured by the SDF from the jihadist group, known in Arabic by its enemies as Daesh, in more forceful terms.

On Sunday, Damascus declared Islamic State’s former capital at Raqqa would be considered “occupied” until the Syrian army took control – a challenge to Washington which helped the SDF capture the city in months of fighting.

And the eastern oil fields seized by the SDF in October, including Syria’s largest, will be a target for the government as it tries to recover resources needed for reconstructing areas it controls, according to a Syrian official and a non-Syrian commander in the alliance fighting in support of Assad.

“The message is very clear to the SDF militants and their backers in the coalition, headed by America: the lands they took from Daesh are rightfully the Syrian state‘s,” said the non-Syrian commander, who requested that his name and nationality be withheld.

“Regarding the resources of the Syrian people in the east – oil and so on – we will not allow anyone to continue to control the country’s resources and to create cantons or to think about self government,” added the commander, who is part of a military alliance that includes numerous Iran-backed Shi‘ite militias from across the region.

The Syrian official said the SDF could not keep control of oil resources. “We won’t permit it,” said the official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity as he was giving a personal view.

The United States has not spelt out how military support for the SDF will evolve after Islamic State’s defeat, a sensitive point due to the concerns of its NATO ally Turkey.

Ankara regards Syrian Kurdish power as a threat its national security as its forces are fighting Kurdish PKK rebels over the border in Turkey.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has established several military bases in northern Syria, has been helping the SDF shore up control of the recently captured al-Omar oil field in Deir al-Zor province.

“Many people will say that will help them with (political) negotiations, but only if the United States remains with them, otherwise they are going to get clobbered,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“I think the Syrian government is going to push on some of these oil wells, in the same way as Iraq just pushed to get Kirkuk oil, and in the same way the Iraqi push is going to embolden the Syrian army,” he said.

KIRKUK “LESSON”

Iraqi Kurds took control of large areas outside their autonomous region during the fight against Islamic State. However, last month’s independence referendum prompted Western opposition and fierce resistance from Baghdad, Ankara and Assad’s Iranian allies, and the Kurdish authorities have since lost much territory to Baghdad, including oil producing areas around the city of Kirkuk.

The Syrian official said this should serve “as a lesson for the Kurds in Syria, so they think about the future”.

Regional sources say the U.S. unwillingness to stop Iraqi government forces, backed by Shi‘ite militias, from recapturing Kirkuk sent an encouraging message to Assad and his Iranian allies to retake the SDF-held oil areas in Syria.

With critical military support from Russia and the Iran-backed militias, Assad has recovered swathes of central and eastern Syria from Islamic State this year, having defeated many anti-Assad rebel factions in western Syria.

The Kurdish YPG militia, the dominant force in the SDF, controls the second largest chunk of Syrian territory – around a quarter of the country. Syrian Kurdish leaders say they are not seeking secession.

The YPG and Damascus have mostly avoided conflict during the Syrian civil war, setting aside historic enmity to fight shared foes. Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria have meanwhile focused on establishing an autonomous government which they aim to safeguard.

Moscow has called for a new “congress” of Syrian groups that may start work on a new constitution. The Russian Foreign Ministry published on Tuesday a list of 33 groups and political parties invited to a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Nov. 18.

A Syrian Kurdish official told Reuters the administration in northern Syria had been invited to the congress. Kurdish officials said they discussed their political demands with the Russians as recently as last month.

A senior Kurdish politician said government statements directed at the Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria were contradictory, noting that the Syrian foreign minister had said in September that Kurdish autonomy demands were negotiable.

“One day they say we are willing to negotiate and then someone else denies this or puts out an opposing statement,” Fawza Youssef said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “One of them declares war and the other wants to come negotiate. What is the regime’s strategy? Dialogue or war?”

After the final defeat of Islamic State in Deir al-Zor, “the situation will drive all the political sides and the combatants to start the stage of negotiations”, Youssef said.

The SDF has also pushed into Arab majority areas, including Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor, where it is working to establish its model of multi-ethnic local governance.

Analysts believe the Syrian Kurdish groups could use the SDF-held Arab areas as bargaining chips in negotiations with Damascus.

“There is no other option than to negotiate,” Youssef said. “Either a new stage of tensions and attrition will start – which we are 100 percent against – or a stage of dialogue and negotiations will start.”

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by David Stamp

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-kurds-analysis/assad-sets-sights-on-kurdish-areas-risking-new-syria-conflict-idUSKBN1D02CN.