Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation Tuesday if deal not respected

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks media members in Istanbul, Turkey. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2019

Erdogan threatens to restart Syria operation Tuesday if deal not respected

  • The NATO allies agreed Turkey would suspend its offensive for five days in northern Syria while Kurdish fighters withdraw from the area
  • "If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan said

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday warned that Ankara would restart its operation against Kurdish forces in Syria on Tuesday evening if they do not withdraw from a "safe zone".
After US Vice President Mike Pence came to Ankara for talks with Erdogan on Thursday, the NATO allies agreed Turkey would suspend its offensive for five days in northern Syria while Kurdish fighters withdraw from the area.
"If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," Erdogan told reporters during a foreign media briefing in Istanbul.
He said Turkish armed forces would remain in the region "because the security there requires this", adding that there had been no issues so far.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday there were Turkish air strikes on the village of Bab al-Kheir, east of Ras al-Ain on the border. The war monitor said 14 civilians were killed.
Turkey launched the cross-border incursion on October 9 after repeatedly threatening to clear the border area from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia.
The Turkish forces are supporting Syrian rebel fighters under the "Syrian National Army" banner but the proxies have been accused by Amnesty International of committing "war crimes" including summary executions.
Erdogan also condemned the abuses that some Syrian proxies are accused of committing during the offensive.
"Whoever commits such an act is no different from (the Islamic State group). We cannot accept such a thing," he said, adding that the army was investigating the claims.
Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria also accused Turkey of resorting to banned weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus munitions, which Erdogan denied.
"There are certainly no chemical weapons in the inventory of our armed forces. This is all slander against our armed forces," he added.
He accused the YPG of freeing nearly 750 IS extremists including 150 Turks but said 195 of them had been caught.

While US President Donald Trump appeared to initially green light the offensive, he made repeated threats against Turkey, often in tweets, following international outrage.
He then sent Pence and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with other US officials to Ankara to thrash out a deal, which was announced on Thursday after hours of talks.
Erdogan said the "safe zone" would be 32 kilometres (20 miles) deep, and 444 kilometres in length, not between Kobane and Tal Abyad, and patrolled by Turkey.
He added that the region between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain had been cleared, "but this is not over. The process is ongoing."
Pointing to a map, he said 12 observation posts would be set up to monitor the zone.
But, he said, "We have no intention to stay there. This is out of the question."
Just hours before the US-Turkey talks, a bizarre letter appeared in the US media from Trump to Erdogan, in which the US leader urged Erdogan not to be a "fool" and warned his Turkish counterpart that history risked branding him a "devil."
Turkish media reported that Erdogan had "binned" the letter.
Erdogan said Friday the letter was not in line with "political and diplomatic courtesy... but our mutual love and respect does not allow us to keep it on the agenda."


Khamenei dismisses deadly protests sweeping Iran, hundreds arrested in crackdown

Updated 18 November 2019

Khamenei dismisses deadly protests sweeping Iran, hundreds arrested in crackdown

  • White House condemns Tehran for using lethal force in responding to the demonstrations
  • One civilian was killed during demonstrations in the central city of Sirjan

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday threw his support behind a decision to hike petrol prices, a move that sparked nationwide unrest in which he said "some lost their lives.”

A policeman was killed in the western city of Kermanhshah in a clash with armed "rioters", the second confirmed death since protests erupted across Iran on Friday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed "hooligans" for damaging property despite widespread anger at the increases and as Iranians suffer from the country’s economic woes.

 

Several people were also wounded and dozens arrested in two days of demonstrations that saw motorists block highways and others attack and set fire to public property.

In a speech aired on state television, Khamenei said "some lost their lives and some centres were damaged".

The White House on Sunday condemned Iran for using "lethal force" against the demonstrators.

"The United States supports the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

 

 

State news agency IRNA said the protests struck more than 100 Iranian cities and towns. Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said 1,000 protesters had been arrested and 100 banks torched.

The protests flared hours after it was announced that the price of petrol would be raised by 50 percent for the first 60 litres (16 gallons) and by 300 percent for anything above that each month.

It is a rise many consumers can ill afford, given that Iran's economy has been battered since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The rial has plummeted, inflation is running at more than 40 percent and the International Monetary Fund expects Iran's economy to contract by 9.5 percent this year and stagnate in 2020.

The petrol pricing plan was agreed by the High Council of Economic Coordination made up of the president, parliament speaker and judiciary chief.

Khamenei said that "I am not an expert and there are different opinions but I had said that if the heads of the three branches make a decision I will support it.

"The heads of the branches made a decision with the backing of expert opinion and naturally it must be implemented," he said.

"Some people would definitely get upset over this decision... but damaging and setting fire (to property) is not something (normal) people would do. It is hooligans."

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Following his speech, parliament cancelled a motion to reverse the price hike, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

President Hassan Rouhani defended the controversial hike in gasoline prices during Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, arguing the alternatives were less favorable.

But Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, an expert in Iranian affairs, said that Rouhani’s remarks “may be read by protesters as a sign of weakness from the government and thus lead to raising the ceiling of popular demands, especially as most of the slogans chanted by the demonstrators hit Khamenei personally and the regime of the Islamic Republic, burning images of Khamenei and attacking the headquarters of the Basij forces.

“The coming days remain important, especially if the protests continue until Friday,” he said. “The protests are expected to widen and increase in frequency.”

Some of the worst violence was in the central city of Sirjan, where acting governor Mohammad Mahmoudabadi said a civilian was killed and fuel stations were among the public property attacked and damaged.

In Kermanshah, a policeman died Sunday, a day after a "confrontation with a number of rioters and thugs," the provincial police chief told IRNA.

In Tehran on Saturday, protesters were seen shouting slogans and burning tyres on a street.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan and Bushehr, where security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators.

Forty "disruptors" were arrested in the central city of Yazd after clashing with police, the province's public prosecutor told ISNA on Sunday. Most were not locals, he added.

Police said security forces would "not hesitate to confront those disrupting peace and security and will identify the ringleaders and field forces and confront them".

The intelligence ministry said those behind the unrest "have been identified" and that measures would be taken against them, according to ISNA.

Access to the internet has been restricted since the demonstrations broke out.

Netblocks, an internet monitoring website, said late Saturday the country was in the grip of a shutdown.

"Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7% of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections," it said on Twitter.

It came after a decision by the Supreme National Security Council, according to a report by ISNA on Sunday.

"Upon the decision of the Security Council of Iran and communicated to internet operators, access to internet has been limited as of last night and for 24 hours," it said, quoting what it called an informed source at the information and communications technology ministry.