US blames Russia, not Assad, for Turkey’s loss

Turkish officials last month requested that the US temporarily deploy Patriot air defense missile systems
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Updated 20 March 2020

US blames Russia, not Assad, for Turkey’s loss

  • It is the first time that Washington has directly faulted Moscow over the death of at least 34 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike

ANKARA: The US believes Russia has killed dozens of Turkish military personnel in the course of its operations in Syria, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, without specifying the place or the date of the incident.

The timing of the statement is telling amid ongoing debates about the activation of the Russian-made S-400 missile system in April as the US has blamed Russia, not Assad, for the deaths of Turkish troops in Idlib.

It is the first time that Washington has directly faulted Moscow over the death of at least 34 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike that was carried out by Russia-backed Syrian government forces in their campaign to retake Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold, Idlib. “We stand with our NATO ally Turkey, and we continue to consider additional measures to support Turkey and to end the violence in Idlib and in Syria more broadly,” Pompeo said.

Turkish officials last month requested that the US temporarily deploy Patriot air defense missile systems to its southern border town of Hatay in a show of support for ongoing military operations against Syrian government forces.

However, the US administration keeps warning Ankara against activating the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system that the US sees as a threat to NATO aircraft.

“Over 50 Turkish soldiers died in Idlib in February and March. The majority were killed in an airstrike that most believe the Russian Air Forces conducted. Despite this, Turkish officials say the S-400 system will be turned on in April,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News.

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, believes that Pompeo’s statement comes as the US and Turkey deepen their cooperation in Syria and Washington sees an opportunity to drive a wedge between Moscow and Ankara.

“The most interesting aspect of this statement is that it was delivered by Pompeo, while previously this issue was restricted to the level of the US Special Envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey. This shows that US-Russia talks are advancing,” he told Arab News.

Jeffrey and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft held consultation meetings in Turkey in early March to assure Ankara of Washington’s support.

According to Macaron, Erdogan, who is using the activation date next month of the S-400 system to leverage buying the US-made Patriots, hopes that Washington can make this deal if Ankara pledges not to make the Russian-made defense system indefinitely operational.

If Ankara proceeds in its activation plan next month, it will be unable to acquire America’s Patriot missile-defense batteries and may be subject to sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“Acquiring the Patriots will give Turkey much needed deterrence against Russia and the Syrian regime, but it will not resolve the pending challenges facing US-Turkish relations,” Macaron said.

The Kremlin reacted to Pompeo’s statement, however, claiming that it was intended simply to disrupt Turkish-Russian cooperation in Syria.

“Even during a global pandemic of an infectious disease, US officials continue their massive anti-Russian propaganda campaign, disseminating information that is clearly false,” Russian news agency TASS reported on Thursday. “Regretfully, in a bid to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey, who are cooperating in Syria, US officials even resort to plain lies.”


Turkey detains 11 over coronavirus house party

Updated 30 March 2020

Turkey detains 11 over coronavirus house party

  • The party was shared live on social media but received criticism for ignoring social distancing pleas
  • Elif K., who broadcast the party live on social media, said around 80 people attended the party

ISTANBUL: Turkish police have detained 11 people, including the organizers and a DJ, after a weekend coronavirus house party in Istanbul where some guests dressed up as doctors, local officials said.
The party, thrown at a villa in the Buyukcekmece district Saturday night, was shared live on social media but received criticism for ignoring social distancing pleas.
“These idiots have organized a home party somewhere in Istanbul” one Twitter user posted.
“How come we will stop the spread of the virus despite those idiots!!!”
Bars and nightclubs have been closed in Turkey by a circular issued by the interior ministry as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Police watched the social media broadcast then detained 11 people including the organizer, M.S. and M.E.C. and a DJ.
They were charged with “disobeying the regulations on infectious diseases,” the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement late Sunday.
The authorities were working to identify other participants, it added.
In the video footage posted, some of those partying could be seen dressed up as emergency doctors with gloves and masks.
“I drank a lot of alcohol. Everyone was dancing with the music. I regret holding such a party at a time of coronavirus,” M.S. told the police in his testimony, the private news agency DHA reported.
Elif K., who broadcast the party live on social media, said around 80 people attended the party. “They were drinking and dancing. I later called a taxi and left.”
The DHA said police released seven people after questioning them, but the other four were sent to court.
Turkey has so far officially recorded 9,217 cases of the new coronavirus while 131 people have died.
Authorities have taken a series of measures to try to slow the spread of the virus, from suspending international flights to shutting schools.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks to stay at home and adapt themselves to “voluntary quarantine” conditions.