Archive for September 12, 2018


15.04.2018

By Nilay Kar Onum

ISTANBUL

Turkey has brought back 80 Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) members from abroad so far, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.

Speaking at the sixth ordinary congress of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Istanbul, Erdogan said: “We’ve brought 80 FETO [terrorists] back from abroad so far.

“We will chase them [the remaining ones] as well.”

Referring to U.S.-based FETO leader Fetullah Gulen, he said: “You, who are in Pennsylvania, will also come.”

Last week, Turkish intelligence officers brought three senior Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) members to Turkey following an anti-terror operation against the group in Gabon, a Central African country, security sources said.

In March, Turkish intelligence officers also brought six senior FETO members back to Turkey following operations against the terror group’s branch in the Balkans, according to security sources.

In cooperation with Kosovo’s intelligence agency, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) arrested the six men, who were said to be in charge of getting FETO members out of Turkey and into Europe and the U.S. alongside their activities in the Balkans

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated July 2016 defeated coup in Turkey which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.

Erdogan also said 4,163 terrorists have been neutralized so far as part of the Operation Olive Branch in Syria’s Afrin region.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin in northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.

On March 18, Turkish-backed troops liberated Afrin town center, which had been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK since 2012.

Also, 337 PKK terrorists were neutralized in northern Iraq and 190 others inside Turkey have also been neutralized, the president added.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply that the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU — has been responsible for the death of some 40,000 people.

The PYD/YPG are Syrian branches of the terrorist PKK and the focus of Turkey’s successful counter-terrorist Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, Syria, near the border with Turkey.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://aa.com.tr/en/todays-headlines/erdogan-80-feto-brought-back-to-turkey-from-abroad/1119095.

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April 05, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — In covert operations in 18 countries, Turkey’s intelligence agency has snatched around 80 Turkish citizens who the government wanted for alleged links to the country’s 2016 failed coup, a top Turkish official said Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag’s comments in an interview with Haberturk television came after Turkey secretly arranged the deportation from Kosovo of six Turkish men — five teachers and a doctor — accused of supporting the coup attempt.

The move angered Kosovo’s prime minister, who fired the country’s interior minister and intelligence chief for not telling him about it, and drew sharp criticism from human rights groups. Bozdag said the National Intelligence Agency had similarly “bundled up and brought back” suspects linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen in covert operations in 18 countries. He did not name the countries but said such operations would continue.

Turkey has accused Gulen of being behind the failed coup attempt that resulted in more than 250 deaths, a claim that he denies. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied, however, that the suspects were abducted through illegal operations. He insisted the six men from Kosovo were brought back in agreement with the country’s authorities.

“We have never engaged in any illegal act in our struggle against (Gulen’s movement),” Kalin said. “The event in Kosovo took place … within the framework of an agreement on the return of criminals.”

Those deported from Kosovo worked in schools and clinics supported by Gulen’s movement. At home, Turkey has arrested more than 38,000 people for alleged links to Gulen and fired some 110,000 public servants since the coup attempt. Many of those arrested or fired have proclaimed their innocence.

April 04, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his military “won’t stop” trying to oust Syrian Kurdish fighters from northern Syria, as he met with the leaders of Russia and Iran for talks on trying to resolve the conflict.

The three countries, which have teamed up to work for a Syria settlement despite their differences, reaffirmed their commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and the continuation of local cease-fires. They called on the international community to provide more aid for war-ravaged Syria.

Erdogan, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were holding their second summit to discuss Syria’s future since attending a similar meeting in Sochi, Russia, in November. Russia and Iran have provided crucial support to President Bashar Assad’s forces, while Turkey has backed the rebels seeking to overthrow him.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Erdogan said Turkish troops, which last month took control of the northwestern Kurdish enclave of Afrin, would move eastward into Manbij and other areas controlled by the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, the Peoples’ Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be terrorists.

“I say here once again that we will not stop until we have made safe all areas controlled by the (YPG), starting with Manbij,” Erdogan said. He stressed that Turkey’s fight against the YPG would not distract from efforts to eliminate remnants of the Islamic State group from the country.

Wednesday’s summit came as the White House said its military mission to eradicate IS in Syria was coming to a “rapid end,” though it offered no timetable for withdrawal of the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops currently in Syria as part of an American-led coalition fighting the Islamic militants since 2014. President Donald Trump had said a day earlier that the U.S.’s primary mission was to defeat IS and “we’ve almost completed that task.”

With allies anxious about a hasty U.S. withdrawal, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the U.S. would stay in war-torn Syria to finish off the job of defeating the Islamic State group and was committed to eliminating the militants’ “small” presence that “our forces have not already eradicated.”

But Sanders suggested that would not be a long-term endeavor, and she described the extremist group that once controlled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq as “almost completely destroyed.” Trump’s comments conflict with views of his top military advisers, some of whom spoke at a separate event in Washington on Tuesday about the need to stay in Iraq and Syria to finish off the militant group, which once controlled large swaths of territory in both countries.

Asked about a possible U.S. pullout, Rouhani suggested Wednesday that the U.S. threat to withdraw from Syria was an excuse for soliciting money from countries that want U.S. forces to remain there. “One day they say they want to pull out of Syria. … Then it turns out that they are craving money,” he said. “They have told Arab countries to give them money to remain in Syria.”

It was unclear what Rouhani was referring to. But Trump in recent weeks has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion for reconstruction in Syria as part of his efforts to get other countries to help pay for stabilizing the country, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the conversations publicly.

Rouhani also reiterated that there can be no military solution to the Syrian crisis. “It should be resolved through political solutions,” he said. Russia, Iran and Turkey have sponsored several rounds of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition, and brokered local truces in four areas, helping to reduce hostilities. Their next tripartite meeting will be held in Tehran.

Erdogan said the Turkish and Russian militaries were discussing the possibility of establishing field hospitals in Syria’s Tal Abyad town to care for people injured in the Syrian government offensive on the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta. “Be it the Turkish armed forces, be it the Russian armed forces, (we) want to quickly establish a field hospital so that initial treatment can be provided,” Erdogan said.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said Wednesday that it expects a rebel evacuation from the suburbs of the Syrian capital to be completed in the coming days. The Russian Defense Ministry and Syrian rebels struck a deal on Sunday for the Army of Islam, the biggest opposition group in eastern Ghouta, to leave the area for the rebel-controlled north.

The rebels were still leaving the town of Douma, but the evacuation was expected to wrap up in the coming days, said Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian General Staff. Earlier, Russia’s Defense Ministry said that more than 3,000 rebels and their family members had evacuated Douma since Sunday.

The evacuation comes after a blistering five-week government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds of people and caused catastrophic damage in the besieged suburbs.

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington, Zeina Karam and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.

April 02, 2018

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Ties between Russia and Turkey are growing closer than ever, as Russia runs into widespread diplomatic fallout from the poisoned spy scandal and Turkey’s relations with its Western allies worsens over human rights issues and its military operations against Kurdish militia in Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin heads back to Turkey on Tuesday, joining Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony for a Russian-made nuclear power plant being built on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast at Akkuyu. On Wednesday, Putin, Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are expected to hold a summit in the Turkish capital of Ankara to discuss Syria’s future.

Turkey and Russia have put aside their traditional rivalries and differences on regional issues to forge strong economic ties. In December, they finalized an agreement for Turkey to purchase Russia’s long-range S-400 missile defense system, a deal that raised eyebrows among some of Turkey’s NATO allies. Aside from the power plant, the two countries are also building the “Turkstream” pipeline to transport Russian gas to Turkey.

“Turkish-Russian relations are in a better mood compared with two years before . both parties are working together,” said Mitat Celikpala, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“They managed to compartmentalize issues,” Celikpala said, citing Turkish and Russian divisions, including over the divided island of Cyprus and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. “If you set aside all those issues . they are good partners for the resolution of immediate interests.”

Their warming relations come as ties between European Union nations and Turkey have become increasingly testy. Turkey’s EU membership talks have stalled and many EU countries have voiced concerns over the Turkish government’s growing authoritarian turn and its crackdown on rights and freedoms, especially following an attempted coup in 2016 that Turkey blames on a U.S.-based Islamic cleric.

Turkey in turn, accuses EU countries of supporting Kurdish rebels as well as the alleged perpetrators of the 2016 failed coup. Turkey’s relations with the United States have fared even worse, with Turkey accusing Washington of harboring the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, and backing Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey considers to be terrorists.

Last week, Turkey announced it would not be following NATO and EU allies in ousting Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian spy. Britain has accused Russia of being behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, prompting nearly two dozen nations to expel over 150 Russian diplomats. Russia has responded by expelling a similar number of envoys.

Turkey condemned the nerve agent attack on British soil without naming Russia, adding that it enjoyed “positive” relations with Moscow. “Just because some countries took a step based on an allegation, we don’t have to take the same step,” Erdogan said.

Putin and Erdogan have met several times in the past year and regularly speak on the phone. Russia and Turkey — along with Iran — are also working together to create “de-escalation zones” to reduce the fighting in Syria and bring the sides of the conflict together to negotiate Syria’s future.

The cooperation comes despite their positions on opposing sides in the Syrian conflict —with Moscow siding with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Turkey supporting his foes since the start of the Syrian war seven years ago.

The conflicting interests led to the downing of a Russian warplane by a Turkish jet at the Syrian border in November 2015, which put the two nations on the verge of a direct military conflict. Russia responded by barring packaged tourist tours to Turkey and halting the imports of agricultural products. The two reconciled after Erdogan issued an apology.

Wieting reported from Istanbul.

September 08, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government and Russian warplanes on Saturday targeted the southern edge of Idlib province in what activists described as the most intense airstrikes in weeks, ratcheting up military pressure on the densely populated rebel-held bastion.

More than 60 air raids killed at least four civilians in southern Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and rescue workers. The bombings also included indiscriminate barrel bombs, dropped from choppers, invariably blamed on the government.

The bombings, including shelling from government areas, came a day after Iran and Russia backed a military campaign in the rebel-held area despite Turkey’s pleas for a cease-fire. Turkey has troops and 12 observations points that circle Idlib.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV said the government was retaliating against overnight shelling from rebel-held areas on a government-held town in Hama province, south of Idlib. The shelling late Friday in Mhradah killed nine civilians, according to state media. The state news agency SANA said government forces have shelled “terrorist” posts in northern Hama.

But the government and Russian raids targeted a wide swath of rebel-held area in the southern edge of the rebel-held enclave that includes most of Idlib province and northern Hama province. More than 3 million people live in the area, nearly half of them already displaced from fighting elsewhere in Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 68 air raids and 19 barrel bombs dropped Saturday on several of towns and villages in southwestern Idlib and Hama province. The area targeted over the past few days overlooks government-controlled areas.

The Observatory described the attacks on the rebel-held areas as the “most intense” since August and said they killed four in Abdeen, west of Khan Sheikhoun town, including two children and a woman. The raids forced schools to close in Khan Sheikhoun, a town under attack, according to the Observatory.

The White Helmets, a team of first responders, also reported on the four people killed in Abdeen. A video posted by the White Helmets from the town shows their rescuers pulling a woman who was still alive from under the rubble of a caked building, as other team members warn of government helicopters hovering above them.

The rescuers said another was killed in Halba, a village farther north. The group said one of its already damaged centers had been hit in the wave of airstrikes. In another village in central Idlib, Hass, an area hospital was hit by the airstrikes, putting it out of service and injuring two of its staff members, according to Coordinators of Response, a group of volunteers operating in northern Syria. The group also said the airstrikes caused a limited amount of internal displacement, uprooting nearly 700 families from their homes in several parts of Idlib.

The local council of Morek, a town that serves as a crossing between Hama and Idlib, sent an urgent appeal, asking Turkey to intervene. “We need a quick solution or our town will burn!” the official pleaded in an audio recording shared on social media platforms.

Separately, clashes broke out in eastern Syria in Qamishli, a town close to the border with Turkey, between government and Kurdish security members. The Observatory said the clashes left 10 government security personnel and seven Kurdish fighters dead.

The town is run by Kurdish-led administrators and forces, but Syrian government troops hold pockets of territory there, including the airport. Occasional clashes erupt there over turf control and authority, reflecting deepening political tension between the uneasy partners.

Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, said in a statement that a government patrol entered the areas controlled by the Kurdish militia in Qamishli and began arresting civilians, then shot at a Kurdish checkpoint sparking the gun battle. The Asayish said seven of its members and 11 government personnel were killed.

A journalist and area resident, Arin Sheikmos, said the government security troops carried out an arrest campaign in Kurdish-controlled areas, detaining people it accused of dodging military conscription. This prompted the clashes that lasted no more than 20 minutes, Sheikmos said.

There was no immediate comment on the clashes by the government. The U.S.-backed Kurdish administration has recently begun talking with the Syrian government, seeking government recognition of its self-rule areas. But in recent days, the Damascus government announced that it will be holding local administration elections, including in Kurdish-ruled areas, undermining the negotiations with the Kurds and their proposal for self-rule.

The Kurdish-led administration control nearly 30 percent of Syria, mostly in the northeastern part of the country, including some of Syria’s largest oil fields. They seized the territories, with the backing of the U.S.-led coalition, after driving out Islamic State militants.