Archive for February 26, 2018


February 01, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has fired back after France’s president warned it against invading a Kurdish enclave in Syria, calling his remarks an “insult.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that France was in no position to “teach a lesson” to Turkey over its cross-border offensive, referring to past French military interventions in Algeria and other parts of Africa.

His comments were in response to remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron, who warned Turkey against an “invasion operation.” Turkey launched the offensive against the Afrin enclave on Jan. 20 to drive out the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units, or YPG, a militia it says is an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey.

Cavusoglu said France understood that Turkey was fighting “terrorists” and did not aim to invade Afrin.

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24.01.2018

By Adham Kako and Muhammed Misto

AZAZ / ANKARA

The Kurdish fighters of the Free Syrian Army say they are defending their own land against the PYD/PKK terrorist organization, vowing to free Afrin from their occupation.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the northwestern Syrian town of Azaz, Abu Fayad, one of the Kurdish fighters, who vigorously make the case that the PYD/PKK can never represent the Kurds living in the region, said they were Kurds speaking Kurdish and had nothing to do with the PKK.

“We’ve been defending our villages, our land for a long time. What do they [the PKK] want from us? They are terrorists whereas we are a free army,” Fayad said.

“The PKK has no religion and they came from some place far away. In order to do what? Of course, to steal our land. So what kind of relationship can we possibly have with them? We won’t let them get anywhere near us,” Abu Fayad said.

He stressed that Turkey was a Muslim country that would never harm them.

“If our people here think that Turkey would harm them, they are wrong. Turkey wants our well-being. They won’t harm us,” he said.

As regards the recent situation in Afrin, where the Free Syrian Army and the Turkish Armed Forces have launched Operation Olive Branch, Abu Fayad reiterated:

“Turkey has our best interests at heart in this region, and it is hand in hand with us, working with us. God bless the people and government of Turkey,” Abu Fayad added.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched Operation Olive Branch on Saturday to remove all PYD/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin, establish security and stability along Turkish borders and the region as well as to protect the Syrian people from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists, according to a statement issued the same day.

The military notes that the operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council’s decisions, self-defense rights under the UN charter and respect to Syria’s territorial integrity.

It is also frequently emphasized that “utmost care” is being shown not to harm any civilians.

Afrin has been a major hideout for the PYD/PKK since July 2012 when the Assad regime in Syria left the city to the terror group without putting up a fight.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkey-defends-our-interests-kurdish-fsa-fighter/1041160.

January 18, 2018

60,000 armed Turkish soldiers will be deployed across four military bases abroad in accordance with a new 2022 plan, The New Khalij reported today.

The Turkish National Security Council finalized the plan yesterday, in order to meet Turkey’s military and commercial interests to support its allies.

Turkey already has 3,000 troops deployed near the Red Sea, in Somalia and a military base in Sudan’s Suakin Island, which is capable of holding some 20,000 military personnel for five years. 200 Turkish soldiers have been deployed in Somalia since October last year, training Somalia’s military.

In addition to some hundred soldiers currently based in Qatar’s Al-Udeid military base since shortly after the blockade on Qatar, Turkey plans to deploy more to fulfill its 2022 plan. The number has not publicly been disclosed.

Qatar announced today that Turkish commercial firms will be given priority for business during the World Cup in 2022, to be held in the capital of Qatar, Doha.

Some 112 companies from a variety of sectors will be attending Expo Turkey by Qatar, co-organized with Turkey’s Independent Industrialists and Business people’s’ Association (MUSIAD). Turkish and Qatari commercial firms have already signed business agreements worth some 60 million dollars.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180118-turkey-to-deploy-60000-soldiers-in-bases-abroad-including-in-qatar/.

January 16, 2018

Turkey’s Ambassador to Khartoum Irfan Neziroglu said yesterday that “the agreements signed between my country and Sudan have entered into force”.

Speaking to the Sudanese Media Center, the Turkish ambassador said as soon as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left Sudan the agreements entered into force.

He stressed that his country “wants to rebuild and revitalize the island of Suakin”.

“We have already begun to do so by reconstructing four buildings on this island, including Al-Shafei Mosque, the customs building and other buildings,” he said.

He condemned statements which criticized Turkey’s role in Sudan saying: “I wonder when the presidents of other countries visit Sudan, why do they not get upset? Why were they upset when the Turkish president came?”

During his visit to Sudan in late December, Erdogan offered to reconstruct the island of Suakin. Egyptian and Gulf media have since said this is a threat to regional security.

The two countries signed 21 cooperation agreements in the fields of economy, tourism, infrastructure, military cooperation, agriculture and others during Erdogan’s visit.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180116-ambassador-turkey-sudan-agreements-enter-into-force/.

January 14, 2018

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president said Sunday the country will launch a military assault on a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria “in the coming days,” and urged the U.S. to support its efforts. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the operation against the Afrin enclave aims to “purge terror” from his country’s southern border.

Afrin is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG. Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency within its borders.

A YPG spokesman in Afrin said clashes erupted after midnight between his unit and Turkish troops near the border with Turkey. Rojhat Roj said the shelling of areas in Afrin district, in Aleppo province, killed one YPG fighter and injured a couple of civilians on Sunday.

Turkey and its Western allies, including the U.S., consider the PKK a terrorist organization. But the U.S. has been arming some of Syria’s Kurds to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria — a sore point in already tense U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Turkish president said “despite it all” he wants to work with the U.S. in the region and hopes it will not side with the YPG during the upcoming Afrin operation. “It’s time is to support Turkey in its legitimate efforts” to combat terror, said Erdogan.

He added that the new operation would be an extension of Turkey’s 2016 incursion into northern Syria, which aimed to combat IS and stem the advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. Turkish troops are stationed in rebel-held territory on both sides of Afrin.

Roj said the Kurdish militia will fight to “defend our gains, our territories.” Senior Kurdish official Hediye Yusuf wrote on Twitter that the Turkish operation against Afrin is a “violation” of the Syrian people and undermines international efforts to reach a political solution in Syria.

The Turkey-PKK conflict has killed an estimated 40,000 people since 1984 and the resumption of hostilities in July 2015 killed more than 3,300 people, including state security forces, militants and civilians.

December 29, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has finalized a deal with Moscow for the purchase of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile system, Turkish defense officials announced Friday, despite concerns voiced by some of the NATO member’s allies.

The deal, which would make Turkey the first member of the military alliance to own Russia’s most advanced air defense system, comes amid strengthening ties between Turkey and Russia and Ankara’s deteriorating relations with the United States and other western countries.

The Turkish Defense Industries Undersecretariat said in a statement Friday that Turkey would buy at least one S-400 surface-to-air missile battery with the option of procuring a second battery. The delivery of the first battery was scheduled for the first quarter of 2020, the statement said.

The two countries on Friday also finalized a financial agreement for the project, under which part of the cost would be financed through a Russian loan, the Defense Industries body said, without revealing details of the deal.

Turkish media reported Friday that Turkey would purchase four S-400 units at a cost of $2.5 billion. Sergei Chemezov, head of Russia’s state-controlled Rostech corporation, also told the business daily Kommersant in an interview published Wednesday that the contract was worth $2.5 billion and that a Russian loan would account for 55 percent of the sum.

Chemezov said Turkey would buy four batteries and that the first deliveries would start in March 2020, according to Kommersant. “It’s the first NATO country to purchase our most advanced S-400 system,” he said.

The reason for the discrepancy over the number of batteries Russia would supply Turkey was not immediately clear. The Defense Industries body would not disclose the cost of the project or other details, citing “principles of secrecy” agreed to by the two countries.

The S-400 has a range of up to 400 kilometers and can simultaneously engage multiple targets. It’s capable of shooting down ballistic missile warheads along with aircraft and cruise missiles. Russia deployed the S-400s to its base in Syria to deter Turkey when the two nations were on the verge of conflict after a Turkish jet downed a Russian bomber on the Syrian border in November 2015.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in September that Turkey had signed a deal to buy the Russian system and made a down payment, drawing concerns from some of Turkey’s NATO allies. Some NATO countries have expressed worries that the S-400 system is not compatible with the alliance’s weapons systems.

The Defense Industries agency said the Russian system would be operated under the full control of the Turkish military and “in an independent manner, without any links to any outside elements.” “The system’s operation, management, and systems recognizing friends and foes will be undertaken through national means,” the Defense Industries body said.

Associated Press Writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

December 27, 2017

The two-day visit to Khartoum by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to meet his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir this week, marks a new phase in the relationship between the two countries. It also appears to affirm that a consensus on the Palestinian issue may have been given a new lease of life.

The relationship between the two countries dates back 500 years when the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Selim I and his army — equipped with the latest technology of the day, bayonets of gunpowder — crushed the sword-wielding forces of the 300-year Mamluk dynasty, just outside the Syrian city of Aleppo on 24 August 1516. The victory marked the beginning of the Ottoman conquest of Arab lands and led to a period of Islamic world dominance. Inadvertently, it set the stage for yesterday’s historic meeting between the successor to the Ottomans and the inheritor of the ancient African Nilotic Kush civilization.

Clearly, the two men and nations have taken divergent paths when dealing with international and domestic issues, but today Sudan and Turkey appear to be more ideologically matched than at any time in the recent past, and their alliance may prove to be key in applying a new dimension to the Palestine-Israel crisis. More than one hundred years after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and almost 60 years after the independence of the Republic of Sudan, Erdogan and Al-Bashir shook hands firmly on the tarmac at Khartoum International Airport in the middle of guests and dignitaries eager to be part of the historic event.

Just two weeks-ago, the two men were also together in Istanbul with other heads of state at the extraordinary summit called by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to reject US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Fifty years ago, it was Omar Al-Bashir’s predecessors who presided over the Khartoum Summit convened by the Arab League in response to the crushing defeat of Arab armies at the hands of Israel in the Six-Day War. The 1967 summit passed a resolution proclaiming no to peace with the Zionists, no to recognizing the State of Israel and no to negotiations. Sudan’s official position since then has been in support of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, which proposes normalized relations with Israel in return for the complete withdrawal of occupation forces from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and most of East Jerusalem, along the 1949 Armistice Line, which was the de facto border in 1967.

Much has also changed on the Arab stance with regard to Palestine, but at Sunday’s news conference the message from Erdogan and Al-Bashir was again another series of emphatic “noes” that seems to represent the view of most other countries around the world: No to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; no to the movement of embassies; and no to the effective takeover of Islam’s third holiest shrine, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. Erdogan reflected — understandably with a sense of satisfaction — on last week’s non-binding UN General Assembly vote declaring Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to be null and void; the vote was 128 in favor of the resolution, with 35 abstentions and only 9 countries voting against. The issue, he said, is one which affects humanity, not just Muslims.

Sources have told MEMO that the two leaders share the view that the issue of Jerusalem could result in a closing of the damaging Sunni and Shia divide. The two leaders have good relations with Tehran. MEMO has been informed that they are persuaded by President Hassan Rouhani’s offer of unity on the Palestinian issue and intend to work towards achieving regional and world peace. The two sides understand that having a unified stance with Iran on the Palestine issue would put them on a collision course with the US insistence that Sunni states should view Tehran as an enemy and a threat to Israel’s interests.

Many people regard Erdogan and Al-Bashir with respect for their pro-Palestine rhetoric and believe that they hold the key to galvanizing global support for the cause. Sudan’s Islamic movement controls up to 80 per cent of the government and regards the question of Jerusalem as a “red line”, as do others. Prominent Muslim scholars refer to Erdogan in religious terms as a “reformer”, the likes of which are promised to appear every hundred years according to some Islamic traditions.

For the moment, though, the priorities of Erdogan and Al-Bashir are to boost bilateral trade, help Turkey establish a foothold in Africa and continue to help each other on domestic issues. Erdogan’s arrival at Khartoum Airport was preceded by that of 200 Turkish businessmen who have signed deals expected to boost the value of bilateral trade to over US$ 10 billion in the next ten years. Sudan is seen as a gateway to Africa helping Turkey to increase its diplomatic, military and economic presence across the continent. The strategy seems to be working; in 2005, Turkey had 12 embassies in African states, whereas it now has 39 major diplomatic missions.

For its part, Turkey has supported Sudan politically over the years in the efforts to get US sanctions lifted. The Turkish President and his government praised Sudan’s defense of the state after the attempted coup on 15 July 2016. Under Ankara’s direction, Sudan has closed schools once run by the FETO Gülen movement and helped to secure the arrest of Turkish nationals suspected of financing the movement’s coup attempt.

The two-day visit ended on note of great optimism, not least for the economic future of the two nations. It also sent out signals of strong leadership that will be central to the direction taken by the Palestinian issue and the Muslim world in general.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171227-a-sudan-turkey-alliance-promises-a-new-direction-for-the-muslim-world/.

December 27, 2017

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan today called Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad a terrorist and said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with him, Reuters reported.

Turkey has demanded the removal of Al-Assad from power and backed opposition groups fighting to overthrow him, but it has toned down its demands since it started working with Al-Assad’s allies Russia and Iran for a political resolution.

“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan told a televised news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis.

Despite its differences with Russia and Iran, Turkey has worked with the two powers in the search for a political solution in Syria.

Ankara, Moscow and Tehran also brokered a deal to set up and monitor a “de-escalation zone” to reduce fighting between insurgents and Syrian government forces in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.

“We can’t say [Assad] will handle this. It is impossible for Turkey to accept this. Northern Syria has been handed over as a terror corridor. There is no peace in Syria and this peace won’t come with Assad,” Erdogan said.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171227-turkey-syrias-assad-is-definitely-a-terrorist/.

February 25, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Czech authorities detained a former leader of a Syrian Kurdish political party under an Interpol red notice that was based on Turkey’s request for his arrest, Turkish and Syrian Kurdish officials said Sunday.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was “caught.” Speaking in Sanliurfa Sunday, Erdogan said, “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey requested Muslim’s detention for extradition after locating him in a Prague hotel. Bozdag called Muslim the “terrorist head.” A Kurdish official close to Muslim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former PYD leader was in Prague attending a conference. After a Turkish participant took a photograph of him, Czech police detained the Syrian politician Saturday, following a request by Turkey.

Czech police say that have arrested and placed in detention a 67-year-old foreigner at the request of Turkey’s Interpol. No further details were immediately released by Czech police. Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward.

The Turkish justice ministry said Muslim was being tried in absentia for his alleged involvement in a March 2016 car bomb attack on Turkey’s capital, which killed 36 people and injured 125. Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders for more than three decades.

The party is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential even after stepping down as co-chair last year. The PYD condemned in a statement Muslim’s detention, saying the move is an “illegal and immoral act by Czech authorities” and calling for his immediate release.

The group also accused Turkey of adopting “dirty methods in chasing personalities that are playing a role in the fight against terrorism,” highlighting Muslim’s major role in mobilizing international opinion in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The United States has been backing the PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, in combating the extremist IS. The alliance has tensed relations between Washington and Ankara, who are NATO allies.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the YPG from the enclave of Afrin. The Kurdish official said the former PYD leader was invited to Prague to take part in a conference held once every six months to discuss issues linked to the Middle East such as the Syrian crisis, Turkey, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The justice ministry said it was submitting an extradition request for Muslim. An extradition request would have to be approved by a Czech court and by the justice minister. Muslim is a Syrian citizen.

Turkey shares a 911-kilometer border with Syria. The YPG controls much of the territory along the border.

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

2018-02-09

ERBIN – Syrian regime jets have pounded Eastern Ghouta, sending the death toll from a four-day assault on the rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus soaring past 220.

Violence also flared in eastern Syria on Thursday, where the US-led coalition said it had killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters to fend off an attack on its Kurdish allies.

The clash marked a fresh escalation between Washington, which has threatened the regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons, and Damascus, which labelled the latest incident in eastern Syria a “war crime”.

Moscow also slammed the US-led strikes, with Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia saying he had lodged a protest about the assault during a closed-door Security Council meeting.

“To confront those who really fight international terrorism on the ground in Syria is criminal,” he said.

The UN Security Council on Thursday failed to back a UN appeal for a month-long humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

In Eastern Ghouta, which lies east of the capital and has been besieged since 2013, residents had no time to mourn their dead or treat their wounded from the previous day’s bombardment.

“These are the worst four days that Eastern Ghouta has ever gone through,” said Hamza, an overwhelmed doctor at the Erbin clinic who was treating wounded patients.

“From 2011 until now, there has never been the level of bombardment we’ve seen in the last 96 hours.”

The death toll mounted steadily throughout Thursday, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights giving 75 civilians dead by the evening. Three died of wounds suffered on Wednesday.

– Dozens of children –

That brought to 228 the number of civilians killed since the regime launched a campaign Monday of heavy air raids on the area, which has an estimated 400,000 residents.

Among them were at least 58 children, the Observatory said.

“Children and teachers are terrified that at any moment they could be hit. The siege means there is nowhere for them to escape,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director.

“There must be an immediate halt to the fighting and an end to the siege.”

Moayad al-Hafi, a rescue worker, said his team was targeted as they retrieved bodies near Erbin.

“As we were pulling out the children and the dead from under the rubble, they targeted us with five rockets — directly targeting us,” said Hafi, 24.

At least two civilians were killed in retaliatory rebel mortar fire on government-controlled areas of Damascus, according to state news agency SANA.

AFP correspondents said mortars were raining down on Bab Touma on Thursday night.

Eastern Ghouta was one of several so-called de-escalation zones agreed last year by three of the main outside players in the conflict — Turkey, Iran and Russia.

Ankara announced Thursday it would host a new three-way summit to revive efforts to end the war, which has killed at least 340,000 people and displaced millions since 2011.

Recent attempts to bring the conflict’s protagonists and brokers to the table have floundered, but the UN made a fresh call this week for conflicting sides to halt fighting.

The United States backed the plea but Russia — a longtime ally of Syria’s government — shrugged it off.

“That is not realistic,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters at the UN.

– US strikes regime forces –

A US military official said the US-led coalition that still assists Kurdish-led forces in the hunt for surviving IS members in eastern Syria killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters overnight.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the coalition acted in self-defense after pro-government forces moved on an area under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The pro-Damascus forces “began shelling it with artillery,” he added. “They were moving with tanks, obviously in the same direction as they were firing.

“At the end of our effort to defend ourselves, their artillery was knocked out, two of their tanks were knocked out, they had casualties.”

Syrian state media confirmed dozens were killed but appeared to deny the forces were army soldiers, describing them as “popular forces”.

Wounded fighters were taken to the military hospital in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor city, which is controlled by the government.

A reporter contributing to AFP saw at least six fighters there, lying on hospital beds in sparsely equipped rooms.

The Observatory said the regime forces may have been aiming to capture a key oil field and a major gas plant in an SDF-held area.

The Omar oil field, one of the biggest in Syria, had a pre-war output of 30,000 barrels per day, while the Conoco gas field had a pre-war capacity of 13 million cubic meters a day.

According to the Observatory, the forces that launched the attack on SDF positions were local tribal fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and Afghan Shiite militia fighting alongside the regime.

In a letter addressed to the UN secretary general, the Syrian foreign ministry said the attack “represents a war crime and a crime against humanity”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=87183.