SAT 17 - 8 - 2019
Aug 6, 2019
The Daily Star
As Ankara talks start, Syria army says will restart Idlib offensive
Syrian rebels say ready to back Turkish-led operation in northeast
ISTANBUL: The Syrian army said Monday it would resume its offensive against the northwestern Idlib province, the last opposition-held stronghold, accusing insurgents there of violating a recent truce.
Opposition activists reported airstrikes had resumed in the southern parts of the enclave, which is located on the Turkish border.
The Syrian military reported that insurgents had fired rockets at the Russian air base of Hmeimim in Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast, “inflicting large human and material” losses outside the base. The Russian Defense Ministry later said three unguided rockets were fired at the base but hit a nearby village instead, wounding four civilians.
Meanwhile, Turkish and American military officials began a two-day set of talks in the Turkish capital Ankara about establishing a safe zone in northeastern Syria to address Ankara’s concerns about U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish-led forces in that region.
The Syrian military said in a statement carried by state media that insurgents in Idlib had continued to break the cease-fire since it went into effect late Aug. 1.
State media and opposition activists had reported repeated violations of the truce by both sides since then.
The military statement said the rebels also failed to abide by an agreement reached last year to withdraw from a demilitarized zone surrounding the enclave.The cease-fire marked a brief pause in the stalled government offensive against Al-Qaeda-linked militants and other Islamist groups, which dominate Idlib and surrounding areas.
After the army announced it was restarting military operations, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, said Syrian and Russian warplanes began airstrikes on the southern parts of Idlib, mainly the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Turkey’s defense minister tweeted that a new round of talks had begun with the U.S. military about creating a Turkish-controlled safe zone inside Syria east of the Euphrates River that would have no Syrian Kurdish forces within 30-40 kilometers of the border. Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
U.S. troops are stationed in northeastern Syria along with the Kurdish forces, and have fought the Daesh (ISIS) together.
Turkish-U.S. negotiations on the safe zone stalled in recent weeks, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened a new military operation into the area. Erdogan Sunday renewed that threat.
The Syrian Kurds say Ankara’s statements mask a territorial grab inside Syria, which the Kurdish forces had liberated from Daesh militants.
The Syrian Democratic Council issued a statement Monday saying that its military wing - the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces - was a “force to defend” Syria’s ethnic and cultural pluralism.
The council added that Ankara “is trying to deceive the public” and to get the U.S. and other parties to “participate in the crimes that Turkey is committing against humanity.”
Aug. 05, 2019 | 09:29 PM
Syrian rebels say ready to back Turkish-led operation in northeast
AMMAN: Syrian rebel commanders said Monday they are ready to join Turkish troops in an offensive to seize back largely Arab-populated towns and villages in northeast Syria held by Kurdish-led-forces.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday his country, which already has a foothold in northwest Syria, will carry out a military operation in a Kurdish-controlled area east of the Euphrates in northern Syria.
Turkey had in the past warned of carrying out military operations east of the river but put them on hold after agreeing with the United States to create a safe zone inside Syria's northeastern border with Turkey that would be cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia.
The spokesman for the National Army, a Turkey-backed rebel grouping, said a 14,000 strong force was ready to start a campaign against the YPG militia that rules vast swathes of northeast Syria.
"There are over 14,000 fighters who are ready to engage in combat operations east of the Euphrates alongside Turkish forces," Major Youssef Hamoud told Reuters.
The rebel official did not set a date for the operation, while another opposition source said preparations were already underway as Turkish army deployment gathered pace along the border in an operation expected to start from both Syrian and Turkish territory.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) affiliated with the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria condemned Turkey's "growing threats", and it urged Western powers to act.
"We stand as one front with all our ethnic and religious components and will resist with all possible means in defense of security and stability," Abed Hamed al-Mihbash, the head of the council said in a statement.
"Turkey wants to destabilize the co-existence between the various groups of the Syrian people," he added.
The Turkish-led campaign, which has for months been delayed due to resistance from Washington, is aimed at evicting YPG forces from a string of border towns in Raqqa and Hasaka provinces.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled during the conflict from these areas are now in Turkey and in the opposition-held northwest.
Tribal leaders and rights groups accuse the ruling Kurdish militia of preventing many Arabs from returning to their former homes which they say have been confiscated and demolished, a charge the SDF denies.
"The goal is to end the presence of the separatist terrorist group (YPG) and wreck their plan to change the demographic composition of the area and allow those displaced from all sects to go back to their home towns and villages," the rebel official Hamoud said.
With U.S. backing, the SDF have taken control over the last four years of much of northeastern Syria from Islamic State militants.
But resentment against SDF rule in eastern Syria has grown among the predominately Arab population, residents and tribal elders say, with many objecting to compulsory conscription of young men and discrimination at the leadership level.
Kurdish YPG leaders deny any discrimination and say they are seeking to redress decades of repression against their national rights by Syria's Arab Baath party.
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