Turkey keeps up bombardment of Kurd-held Syria border towns

The United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Turkey keeps up bombardment of Kurd-held Syria border towns

  • Almost 200,000 have been displaced by the Turkish offensive
  • Turkish defense chief: Attacking US and coalition forces in Syria out of the question

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON: Turkish forces stepped up their bombardment around a town in northeast Syria on Saturday, the fourth day of an offensive against a Kurdish militia, after US troops in the region came under artillery fire from Turkish positions.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Saturday said attacking US and coalition forces in Syria was out of the question.

The United States has ramped up its efforts to persuade Ankara to halt the incursion against the US-backed Kurdish forces, saying Ankara was causing “great harm” to ties and could face sanctions.

Turkey opened its offensive after US President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Sunday with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and withdrew US troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish forces.

On Friday evening, Erdogan dismissed mounting international criticism of the operation and said Turkey “will not stop it, no matter what anyone says.”

The Syrian Kurdish-led administration on Saturday said almost 200,000 have been displaced by the Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria.

On the frontlines, thick plumes of smoke rose around Syria’s Ras Al-Ain, one of two border towns targeted in the offensive, as Turkish artillery targeted the area on Saturday, said a Reuters reporter across the frontier in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar.

Intense gunfire also resounded from within the town of Ras al Ain itself, while warplanes could be heard flying overhead, he said.

It was quieter at Tel Abyad, the operation’s other main target some 120 km to the west, with only occasional shell fire heard in the area, another Reuters reporter said.

The death toll among Syrian Kurdish-led fighters battling a Turkish offensive has risen to 74, most of whom have been killed in the Tel Abyad area, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman also said 49 fighters with Turkish backed Syrian rebel groups had been killed since the assault began on Wednesday.
The death toll among civilians in Syria had climbed to 20 after two people died in the city of Qamishli, he said. Most of the civilian deaths were also in Tel Abyad.

Earlier, US troops near the northern Syrian border came under artillery fire from Turkish positions on Friday, a Pentagon spokesman said, warning that the US was prepared to meet aggression with “immediate defensive action.”
The US military confirmed an explosion around 9.00pm (1800 GMT) within a few hundred meters of its post near the town of Kobani, in an area “known by the Turks to have US forces present.”
“All US troops are accounted for with no injuries. US forces have not withdrawn from Kobani,” Navy captain Brook DeWalt said in a statement.
US President Donald Trump has faced a firestorm of criticism for appearing to greenlight Turkey’s offensive into northeastern Syria, which began after Trump ordered US troops to pull back from the border.
Turkey is targeting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a key US ally in the five-year battle to crush the Daesh group. The SDF lost 11,000 fighters in the US-led campaign.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Friday Trump had authorized — but not yet activated — “very significant new sanctions” to dissuade Turkey from further offensive military action.
“The United States remains opposed to the Turkish military move into Syria and especially objects to Turkish operations outside the security mechanism zone and in areas where the Turks know US forces are present,” DeWalt added.
“The US demands that Turkey avoid actions that could result in immediate defensive action.”


London’s Lebanese sympathize with protests, struggle to send money

Updated 23 October 2019

London’s Lebanese sympathize with protests, struggle to send money

  • Lebanese nationals overseas have an outsize influence on their native country’s fortunes
  • Britain is among the top ten countries of origin for remittances to Lebanon

LONDON: In common with millions of other Lebanese living abroad, London restaurateur Moufid Shamms is unable to send cash back to support his family — in his case daughters studying at school.
Banks back home have remained shut for five working days as hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s government.
That is a problem for Shamms, who usually makes transfers via Western Union, and also for Lebanon’s small economy. Remittances are a lifeline for families and important source of financing for the economy, funding almost half the trade deficit.
“I have my two eldest daughters living in Lebanon and now I can’t send them money,” the 49-year-old, says sitting outside his restaurant in Edgware Road, a bustling Arab heartland in the British capital.
Lebanese nationals overseas have an outsize influence on their native country’s fortunes.
After many fled from civil war between 1975-1990, estimates now put Lebanon’s diaspora as high as 14 million — more than twice the size of its domestic population.
Britain is among the top ten countries of origin for remittances to Lebanon. A 2011 census recorded more than 15,000 Lebanese living in Britain.
Having left in 1989, sick of the violence and corruption back then, 49-year-old Shamms sees ongoing graft as a prominent issue in the latest upheaval.
“The corruption in Lebanon is why I left,” he says, puffing on a shisha. “Everyone has a right to protest and all Lebanese agree with what they’re asking but we all know nothing is going to be changed because you know Lebanon.”
Globally, flows to Lebanon have faltered recently.
One reason for that is concern from some expatriates about the risk of a looming economic collapse back home, say economists. Another is the Gulf, where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese work, but softening oil prices have hurt the job market.
Having peaked at $9.6 billion in 2014, remittances from the diaspora fell to $7.7 billion in 2018 and may dip to $6.5 billion next year, estimates Institute of International Finance’s Garbis Iradian.
S&P Global warned last month that waning inflows from non-residents were contributing to an accelerated drawdown of foreign currency reserves that would test Lebanon’s ability to maintain its currency peg to the US dollar.
While the closure of banks has provided a practical barrier to sending money, some expatriates also voiced worry about the impact a potential devaluation of the Lebanese currency and further financial instability could have on their savings and investments.
“The first income in Lebanon is from people outside. If they stop sending money then that’s the end of the country,” says Ali Sahir, 50, who sends money to support his wife in Lebanon’s south.
London-based public relations professional Roni Sinno has family in Canada, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Belgium — all sending money back to relatives.
“There is no work in Lebanon,” she says. “My nieces and nephews finished universities and couldn’t work. One stayed in Lebanon five years unemployed until he found work in Qatar. Meanwhile, the children of the politicians are living luxury lives in London and Paris.”
One driver of the demonstrations has been the large sums of money, they say, siphoned out of Lebanon’s economy through corruption.
“Lots of money has been stolen from the government for the last 30 years,” says Ali Abbas, 35, who moved to London in 2007 after graduating and now works in a shop. “The main thing that will help the country will be bringing this money back to the country.”